'More black lawyers needed'

Increasing the number of black—specifically female—lawyers is the aim of newly appointed co-chairperson of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Vincent Saldanha.

Cape Town lawyer Saldanha was appointed co-chair of the LSSA with Pretoria attorney CP Fourie. He said co-chairs were appointed to accommodate for equity in the system. “Invariably there is one black and one white chair.”

The LSSA brings four provincial law societies together with the Black Lawyers’ Association (BLA ) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) to represent 17 800 South African attorneys.

Saldanha is of the opinion that, even in 2008, it is still very necessary, especially for transformation in the legal profession, for the society to have both a black and a white chair.

“It is significant; it’s an important aspect of legitimising the governing structures of the legal profession.”

He told the Mail & Guardian that, as a black attorney, it was a challenge for him to flourish.

“We were told which universities to go to—we had to go to what they call a ‘bush’ college, where the quality of education was inferior.

“In the work environment there was also a measure of hostility towards us. It was a challenge we had to rise above to meet the needs of our clients.”

Saldanha is an attorney for the Legal Resources Centre and is the president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers. He has also served as an acting judge on the Cape Provincial Division’s bench.

He identifies issues of transformation as part of the organisation’s “collective vision” for the profession.

“An enormous challenge in the legal profession is that we need to increase, significantly, the number of black law graduates—especially black female lawyers. And we need to extend their services to all sectors: community structures, corporations and government.”

“We also need to increase access to justice in rural areas. Hopefully, by increasing the number of black lawyers, we can extend the reach.”

Asked if racism is still a problem in the legal profession, Saldanha says: “Well, I think racism is pervasive throughout society, be it in universities, the workplace and, yes, in the legal profession.

“We can definitely improve the way we treat one another but, more importantly, the way we treat our clients. We need to show them respect and dignity. We identify this as an important area of intervention.”

A big task on the hands of the organisation’s new chairs is the drafting of the Legal Practice Bill, which seeks to transform governance of and regulations bearing on the legal profession.

Saldanha says the Bill will “fundamentally change governance structures for both attorneys and advocates”.

Only attorneys are governed by the statutes. Advocates operate independently unless they choose to subscribe to a body. “They don’t belong to disciplinary structures, which means the public is unprotected,” Saldanha says.

“What we envisage is a restructuring of disciplinary processes—attorneys and advocates will be brought together by statute. This will ensure that the independence of the legal profession is upheld.”

The Bill will set admission standards for both attorneys and advocates, formally recognise paralegal practitioners and grant them admission status.

The LSSA wants to encourage attorneys to do pro bono work for the greater public.

“We are busy persuading our law societies to make it compulsory. Currently it is only the Cape Law Society that has 24 hours of pro bono work necessary per practitioner, though we would like to extend that to our other members as well as extend the hours.”

Transparency is highlighted as an issue facing legal practice. “Greater transparency in the governance of the legal profession is necessary. There are far too many complaints about indiscreet lawyers and we are concerned about fading public confidence in law practitioners.”

Saldanha hopes to ensure an environment that “supports and enhances a culture of constitutional and human rights—in courts as well as in people’s personal lives”.

Increasing the number of black—specifically female—lawyers is the aim of newly appointed co-chairperson of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Vincent Saldanha.

Cape Town lawyer Saldanha was appointed co-chair of the LSSA with Pretoria attorney CP Fourie. He said co-chairs were appointed to accommodate for equity in the system. “Invariably there is one black and one white chair.”

The LSSA brings four provincial law societies together with the Black Lawyers’ Association (BLA ) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) to represent 17 800 South African attorneys.

Saldanha is of the opinion that, even in 2008, it is still very necessary, especially for transformation in the legal profession, for the society to have both a black and a white chair.

“It is significant; it’s an important aspect of legitimising the governing structures of the legal profession.”

He told the Mail & Guardian that, as a black attorney, it was a challenge for him to flourish.

“We were told which universities to go to—we had to go to what they call a ‘bush’ college, where the quality of education was inferior.

“In the work environment there was also a measure of hostility towards us. It was a challenge we had to rise above to meet the needs of our clients.”

Saldanha is an attorney for the Legal Resources Centre and is the president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers. He has also served as an acting judge on the Cape Provincial Division’s bench.

He identifies issues of transformation as part of the organisation’s “collective vision” for the profession.

“An enormous challenge in the legal profession is that we need to increase, significantly, the number of black law graduates—especially black female lawyers. And we need to extend their services to all sectors: community structures, corporations and government.”

“We also need to increase access to justice in rural areas. Hopefully, by increasing the number of black lawyers, we can extend the reach.”

Asked if racism is still a problem in the legal profession, Saldanha says: “Well, I think racism is pervasive throughout society, be it in universities, the workplace and, yes, in the legal profession.

“We can definitely improve the way we treat one another but, more importantly, the way we treat our clients. We need to show them respect and dignity. We identify this as an important area of intervention.”

A big task on the hands of the organisation’s new chairs is the drafting of the Legal Practice Bill, which seeks to transform governance of and regulations bearing on the legal profession.

Saldanha says the Bill will “fundamentally change governance structures for both attorneys and advocates”.

Only attorneys are governed by the statutes. Advocates operate independently unless they choose to subscribe to a body. “They don’t belong to disciplinary structures, which means the public is unprotected,” Saldanha says.

“What we envisage is a restructuring of disciplinary processes—attorneys and advocates will be brought together by statute. This will ensure that the independence of the legal profession is upheld.”

The Bill will set admission standards for both attorneys and advocates, formally recognise paralegal practitioners and grant them admission status.

The LSSA wants to encourage attorneys to do pro bono work for the greater public.

“We are busy persuading our law societies to make it compulsory. Currently it is only the Cape Law Society that has 24 hours of pro bono work necessary per practitioner, though we would like to extend that to our other members as well as extend the hours.”

Transparency is highlighted as an issue facing legal practice. “Greater transparency in the governance of the legal profession is necessary. There are far too many complaints about indiscreet lawyers and we are concerned about fading public confidence in law practitioners.”

Saldanha hopes to ensure an environment that “supports and enhances a culture of constitutional and human rights—in courts as well as in people’s personal lives”.

Why a legal practice bill?

At its recent annual general meeting the LSSA adopted a resolution to initiate talks about drafting a bill to govern the legal profession.

In a statement the society said: “According to the LSSA, the time had come for active engagement with all the relevant stakeholders in the legal profession and the justice department to move forward on the draft Legal Practice Bill to transform the governance and regulation of the legal profession.

“There was a need to acknowledge the principles that had been put in place by the LSSA in crafting its previous draft of the Bill which had been handed to former Justice Minister Penuell Maduna in 2002. There was also a need to take into account developments since 2002 such as the fused profession that has existed for some time in a number of Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, the legal services sector charter and the liberalisation of legal services required by the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.

“Through a number of parallel processes, some of the less controversial aspects of the existing draft Bill could be considered for interim implementation, such as:

• The creation of a legal ombud and

• The unification of the professional and accounting rules of the four statutory law societies, as well as engaging the advocates’ profession with regard to its rules.

“During these parallel processes the LSSA will consult with other stakeholders, such as the paralegals, advocates, the ministry of justice and constitutional development and the Attorneys Fidelity Fund. It will also review developments in the SADC region, the United Kingdom—which recently negotiated its Legal Services Act—and other relevant jurisdiction on the governance of the legal profession.”

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