South Africa's biggest corporate law firms are overwhelmingly white and male, in contrast with the majority of the country's law graduates, said Justice Deputy Minister John Jeffery.
"In 2011, the majority of LLB graduates were African [at] 1784, 355 were coloured, 404 were Indian and 1268 white," Jeffery said in a speech prepared for delivery at a general meeting of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, at Sun City, on Saturday.
The majority of graduates were also female, at 1954, compared to 1622 males, he said.
"However, what is more startling is the fact that, despite the majority of LLB graduates being African, it is still the white graduates who are getting articles.
"The Law Society of SA's figures show that the Law Society of the Northern Provinces has just over 12 000 practising attorneys. Of those the overwhelming majority of 8207 are white, with 3165 African."
The LSNP serves Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West.
Jeffery said that in all the provinces, 1104 articles of clerkship were registered 2012. Of these, 587 candidate attorneys were white, 412 were African, 89 were Indian and 16 were coloured.
"If one looks at the profiles of our law firms, it paints a rather disheartening picture," he said.
"For example, if one looks at some of the firms who constitute the so-called 'big five' of our firms, there is cause for concern about the lack of representivity, especially on the level of directors or partners.
"My office found that in one of the 'big five' firms there are 123 partners, of whom 93 are white and only 30 are black. Of the 30 black practitioners, only 17 are African."
Jeffery asked why, if it was possible for smaller law firms to have majority black ownership, it not possible for the bigger firms.
In other professions, such as finance, black-owned and managed companies like Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo existed.
"SNG is a firm of chartered accountants who are the largest black-owned and black-managed accounting firm and the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa.
"It has 55 partners and is nearly completely black-owned and black-managed," Jeffery said.
He also said that 19 years into South Africa's democracy, only nine out of 473 senior counsel were black women, and only 20 were white women. – Sapa