The Top Students of 2005 entered the market place just before the financial crisis – perhaps a much more difficult period than one might expect. The future looked particularly rosy but, just as they got into their stride, the rug was pulled out from under them. In South Africa the country's GDP stood at 5% in 2005, had dropped to 3% in 2010 and is now forecast at 2% for 2015. The rand in January 2005 ranged between R10.7 and R11.4 to the pound. In January 2006 the range was R10.4 to R10.9. In January 2010 the rand was between R11.7 to R12.3 to the pound. In January this year it was R17.1 and now it is an abysmal R18.4.
Or so the saying goes.
No, it doesn't.
Most lawyers I speak to are not made stronger by thoughtless feedback, low level bullying, long-hours cultures, poor management practices and inefficient processes. Mostly these things undermine confidence, cause frustration and result in less resilient people. In other words, these things do not make any of us stronger.
A lawyer's career is their biggest asset. It is likely to be the biggest contributor to their personal wealth, to their family's security, their personal well-being and their professional fulfilment. To say the least it is worth developing, cherishing and preserving; and yet far too often, it seems to me, careers are largely unplanned and unstructured. Perhaps even more frustratingly, careers are not invested in but allowed to depreciate by the neglect of the lawyer, their bosses and inefficient, often attritional, work practices.
You might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to this question is self-evident – we have asked our clients what they want, they have told us and we have listened to them. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Recently Steven J Harper published an article As clients speak, are law firm leaders listening? in the "American Lawyer" (Harper is the author of the thought provoking book The Lawyer Bubble – a Profession in Crisis; Basic Books; 2013). All law firms will say in their vision statements, or on their websites, or in their marketing materials and pitch documents that one of their core business goals is to serve clients. What does this really mean? And to what extent are the views of their clients actually considered in the development of a strategy and the firm's approach to delivering legal services?
Tess McLaren says she wouldn't change any of the choices she has made over the past 10 years. "I was also very fortunate to article at Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs where I gained enormous experience. My later move in-house to Sanlam Investments has also been very successful. I remain very grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and for everyone who mentored and believed in me (and continue to do so)." She does add one rider and some advice for those who are still at university, "If I had my time at University over again I would say study more, learn more, attend more presentations/lectures/talks – take it ALL in, you don't have time to do all that once you are working."
Nicole Bijoux took a gap year after graduating and then took her intended route, "I completed articles with Cliffe Dekker, which was an intense two years of hard work but I always look back on it fondly because it was character building and a lot of fun along the way." I asked if the legal support work Bijoux did during her gap year had been of benefit? "Absolutely. I benefited from developing foundation skills needed in the workplace as well as an insight into practical aspects of the end to end processes. It also developed my appreciation for all the people who work in a law firm and how they support you. When serving articles you need excellent administrative and organisation skills beyond just the technical skills, and do not underestimate how beneficial good typing skills will be when the pressure is on to finalise an agreement!"
Michelle David says, "I have enjoyed every moment of my chosen career. No two days are ever the same!" She adds about the elements of law she most enjoyed studying, "It would seem that the Law of Contract is destined to follow me wherever I go. Contractual principles play an important part in my practice." She started her life as a CA in Employment Law and her practice area remains related to the Employment practice, "My practice is regulatory in nature and focuses on pension and medical scheme law; two aspects which were not taught at university but which I became very interested in when I became a candidate attorney and have enjoyed it ever since."
Laurika Kilian says, "I am still practising as an attorney and admitted Conveyancer and Notary Public at Bowes Loon and Connellan and do not regret my chosen career path at all. I believe that a law degree is an extremely marketable commodity. Law graduates are sought after by employers in many different sectors. Skills you acquire, such as problem solving and an attention to detail are qualities that make you an asset to any organisation." Intellectual Property Law was an area that Kilian enjoyed, however, she observes that "although equipped to handle all aspects of intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks and design I do not get to deal with it at all in Port Elizabeth. Clients tend to instruct firms located within the area of the trademark and patents offices." The other areas she enjoyed she still uses, "I have, however, assisted a number of corporates with competition law aspects of mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act affects every business operating in South Africa and the serious consequences of contravention necessitate a sound understanding of the Act's basic principles."
Michael Bishop was called to the Bar – would he do the same again? This question was met with a resounding, "Yes, definitely!" Bishop is a member of the Cape Bar. He clarifies that by saying, "I work full time as in-house counsel for the Legal Resources Centre (although I take a few private briefs). As a result I specialise in public interest litigation, which mainly concerns constitutional law and administrative law. My practice covers a wide range of topics such as freedom of expression, gender equality, land rights, customary law, social grants, refugee rights, housing, education, environmental law and rule of law issues."
Sian Clarence says, "My decision to embark upon a career at the Bar is one which I have wanted to pursue for as long as I can remember. I certainly, however, would not change the path which I took prior to joining the Bar – being a practising attorney as well as a lecturer of law. Both of those endeavours provided me with experience and growth, prior to becoming an advocate, which has certainly benefited my current practice."
LeRoux Odendaal appears for the first time. without prejudice was unable to track him down in the original feature on the graduates of 2005 nor was he found for the follow-up five years on. Odendaal is a practising attorney. I asked if this was his original plan and, if the clock were to be turned back, would he make the same choice? He says, "I did not really have a set plan, and probably still don't, but would have made most of) the same choices."
Murray Cox was accepted to serve articles with Edward Nathan. Five years post-graduation without prejudice was unable to track him down. The internet has made detective work much simpler. Did Cox remain with the firm as an associate? "I moved abroad and started at Slaughter and May immediately after finishing my articles. Nine months later I went to Oxford to read for the Bachelor Civil Law, then returned to Slaughter and May where I've remained since."
Gabriela Andonova – cum laude. Andonova says, "I have always known that I wanted to study law. From a young age, it instantly appealed to me and that initial interest continued as the years went by." She completed the four-year LLB Law degree and comments, "I would love to obtain a Master's Degree in the near future. I am still a bit undecided as to which one but I would love to do something that has an international law or human rights aspect involved." And she wouldn't change any aspect of the route she took, "I feel that the exact university experience I had has provided me with the perfect foundation to do well in all facets of my life, including my career, family life and social aspirations."
Promotions to director: Albert Aukema – Competition, Emma Dempster – Projects and Infrastructure, Yaniv Kleitman – Corporate and Commercial, Werner Mennen – Corporate and Commercial, Preshan Singh-Dhulam– Finance and Banking, Fatima Valli-Gattoo – Real Estate.