The sustainability of the LSSA discussed at its AGM

June 7th, 2021
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President of the LSSA, Mvuzo Notyesi, in his speech said the legal profession was hit hard by the pandemic and legal practitioners continue to ‘bleed’.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) held its annual general meeting (AGM) on 9 April 2021 in Johannesburg. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the first time that the AGM was held both physically and virtually. The LSSA did not have an AGM in 2020 due to the pandemic. The outgoing President of the LSSA, Mvuzo Notyesi, in his speech said the legal profession was hit hard by the pandemic and legal practitioners continue to ‘bleed’. He added that, due to the pandemic, the legal profession has gone through enormous changes and to be financially viable, everyone was required to change, and change the way of practising law. ‘We must adapt, this is our new reality,’ Mr Notyesi said.

Mr Notyesi pointed out that the AGM was to concentrate on the critical challenges of the legal profession and financial sustainability. He added that the interim results of the recent survey on the legal profession, which the LSSA conducted in collaboration with LexisNexis shows that the legal profession is transforming in the equality of gender since the previous LSSA LexisNexis Attorneys’ Profession in South Africa Report 2016. He pointed out that 63% of the profession indicated that the pandemic grossly affected their law firm, while 37% said they were affected to a lesser extent. Mr Notyesi said that the legal profession must support those legal practitioners who are badly affected during the pandemic.

Keynote speaker Legal Services Ombud, Judge Siraj Desai, spoke on the role of his office.

Keynote speaker Legal Services Ombud, Judge Siraj Desai, spoke on the role of his office. He assured legal practitioners at the AGM that his office will be an independent office and will not run parallel to the offices of the Legal Practice Council (LPC) or the Department of Justice. Mr Desai added that he is often asked when his office will start operating. However, Mr Desai pointed out that the Minister of Justice is the one who will announce the operational date of the office of the Legal Services Ombud. He said that the Ombud is appointed first, then the minister, together with the Legal Services Ombud and other role players set up office before the office will become operational.

Mr Desai spoke about the mandate of the Legal Services Ombud. He said that the Legal Services Ombud’s office mandate is to protect and promote the public interest in relation to rendering legal services and to ensure fair, efficient, and effective investigations against allegations of misconduct by legal practitioners. However, he said that the Legal Services Ombud is not the forum of first instance, but it is only when there is failure when someone approaches the LPC that they can then approach the Legal Services Ombud for help. Judge Desai added that the establishment of the Legal Services Ombud is a unique step in the context of regulation of the legal profession in South Africa.

During the question-and-answer session Judge Desai was asked if whistle-blowers in the legal profession can lodge complaints with the Legal Services Ombud. He said whistle-blowers are not prohibited from lodging complaints, however, he pointed out that he would not be able to afford whistle-blowers the protection that other institutions are capable of providing. Judge Desai was also asked about the operations of his office and the public. He said that every action taken by the Legal Services Ombud, such as hearings and other matters the office will handle, will be made available to the public. He pointed out that the plan is to have the confidence of the public and to enhance the image of the legal profession. He assured legal practitioners that his office will be an independent office and is equivalent almost to that of a Chapter 9 institution.

At the AGM, representatives of each provincial association in all nine provinces gave an update on the structures progress. Some of the representatives said that although they had begun with getting the structures to align with the new LSSA, as it is now changed to be a representative of legal practitioners, COVID-19 hindered the process as legal practitioners could not meet and discuss ways forward or even finalise the constitutions of the provincial associations. It was agreed at the AGM that provincial associations will be given time to study the document of the sustainability of the LSSA and make suggestions on the document. It was also agreed that the provincial associations will also be given time to complete their constitutions that are guided or aligned with the constitution of the new LSSA.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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