Young female legal practitioners discuss their challenges at SAWLA webinar

July 15th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) commemorated youth day by hosting a webinar titled ‘Challenges faced by young women lawyers when entering the profession’. In the webinar that was facilitated by SAWLA’s Chairperson of Events and Programs, Kegomoditswe Mere, three speakers were invited to share the experiences they have faced, and continue facing in university and in the legal profession. Final-year law student at the University of Venda, Ronewa Maduwa, spoke about the challenges that students are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that at her university learning activities were continuing via online platforms. She added that it posed a huge challenge, as not all students have access to those online platforms, as they do not have laptops, smartphones, or money for data. Another problem is network connectivity as some students are from rural areas and network coverage is not good.

Ms Maduwa added that it is a challenging and stressful time for students who do not have the proper tools to continue with their studies at home, as it might lead to them having to repeat their subjects in 2021 and that might cause them not to be able to catch up with their studies. She pointed out that not only does the COVID-19 pandemic interrupt studies, but it might also hinder the chances for four-year LLB students to get articles of clerkship.

Lerato Lelaka, who is currently waiting to be admitted as a legal practitioner, spoke about the challenges of entering the legal profession. She said due to COVID-19, there were delays in being admitted as a legal practitioner. Ms Lelaka added that two years for articles of clerkship is a long time. She said one even ends up being an advisor to new candidate legal practitioners in guiding and telling them about the do’s and don’ts in the legal profession.

Ms Lelaka read and shared Facebook posts on the experiences that candidate legal practitioners have encountered while doing articles of clerkship. The issues included, sexual harassment, washing the principal’s car, feeding the principal’s dogs and having files and staplers thrown at them. She pointed out that the two-year journey of serving articles of clerkship is a hard one and it can either make or break a candidate legal practitioner. Ms Lelaka added that the fact that one of the requirements in some firms that a candidate legal practitioner must have a car, is an unspoken form of discrimination against candidate legal practitioners.

Ms Lelaka pointed out that the Legal Practice Council (LPC) in 2019 released a statement that said it was investigating the matter that candidate legal practitioners must have cars in order to qualify for articles of clerkship. However, she said that months later, the LPC has given no response regarding their investigation. Ms Lelaka noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted many things and has caused some candidate legal practitioners’ contracts of clerkship to be scrapped. Some candidate legal practitioners were told not to return to law firms they were articled at, as law firms were experiencing financial crisis due to the pandemic. She added that her wish is for the legal profession to find ways – even in trying times – to keep the profession working for all.

Newly appointed advocate, Lethu Magadlela, spoke about the challenges encountered by female legal practitioners when serving pupillage. Her two biggest issues were financial stability while serving pupillage and the issue of briefing patterns. Ms Magadlela said that it is challenging to serve pupillage for a period of a year without any kind of stipend. She said some graduates come directly from university and enter the pupillage programme with no means of financial support. She pointed out that it is a huge burden especially for those candidate legal practitioners who depend on their parents, grandparents or relatives for support.

Ms Magadlela said it is also a strain for legal practitioners who were working before and then decide to do their pupillage so that they can be admitted to practise as advocates. She said there were instances where some had to cash in their pension funds, so that they can survive for the 12 months while serving their pupillage.

Another burning issue that Ms Magadlela spoke about was the issue of briefing patterns. She said it is challenging for a female legal practitioner to be given quality briefs, whereas their male counterparts can be given more than one brief at the time. Ms Magadlela said senior legal practitioners must support and guide young legal practitioners. She added that it is not spoon-feeding when one offers guidance and support.

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