Looking back over the past 10 years of my legal career makes for some interesting observations. When I compare my life as a lawyer today to the first few months of my professional career, some changes are immediately evident. I started my career as a candidate attorney in what was then Deneys Reitz's Cape Town office, excited at the prospect of becoming a litigation lawyer and harbouring secret ambitions of moving to the Bar. Now, after spending six years in London, I work at Norton Rose Fulbright's Sydney office as a mining and resources project finance lawyer. Different country, different practice area, and the firm even has a different name.
At the beginning of each New Year a group of young, energetic and hopeful law students joins the rank of the candidate attorney. The gender split of these future lawyers, judges and advocates is almost half male and half female. In 2016, 60% of the 4909 candidate attorneys who joined the legal profession were female. Most of these young ladies who enter the male dominated arena have the ambition and aspiration of advancing through the pecking order of their chosen law firm into the prestigious and lucrative position of equity partner. The journey upwards, however, is not always what these graduates imagine.
With the rapid advancement of technology and the introduction of different generations of people in the workplace, entrants to the partner market have no choice but to adapt. This article explores the impact of technological advances and millennials, and whether this will lead to the creation of a new-age partner in law firms.
For me, it is the clarion call for action on ensuring gender equality and stopping sexual abuse that has taken centre stage since April 2017. This has been across all industries, not least among the legal fraternity. Never before do these issues appear to have taken on a life of their own.
When Janice left law school she was undecided whether to practise law or develop a career in academia. "The advocate's profession caught my imagination during the year I worked as a clerk at the Constitutional Court. The way advocacy combines the theoretical, practical and performative aspects of law appealed to me, and I saw, first hand, the impact of advocacy as a means of promoting social change."
Naticia Dhookie (née Chetty)
Naticia says, "Being an in-house lawyer has been nothing short of life-changing for me. The greatest benefit is not having to worry about billing and chasing a budget. It comes with its own stress and capacity is still an issue but I have found that the business, which is essentially your client, allows you to manage expectations. I am fortunate to have started my in-house career at Barloworld Equipment. I have gained a work-life balance because of our Head of Legal, who is a great leader. Many lawyers have this balance in practice; I was not one of them."
Five years ago Emma practised at Mooney Ford in Durban, "My practice focus was on medical negligence and personal injury claims. I went on to become a partner. After completing the Qualified Legal Transfer exam I was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales."
"I am now an in-house solicitor at Spire Healthcare, which is one of the largest private healthcare companies in the UK. The UK is hugely regulated so my practice has evolved to incorporate regulatory law. Alongside this, moving to an in-house role from private practice has in itself been challenging. My legal advice and work is now largely underpinned by processes, policies and value considerations."
When Mercy graduated she immediately elected to study an LLM in Taxation. She then completed a traineeship at PwC in Cape Town before joining Deloitte & Touche in Namibia. Her area of expertise remains tax and she is now a director with Dr Weder, Kauta & Hoveka in Windhoek, Namibia.
Bronwyn Brown (née Burchell)
Bronwyn completed articles with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr where she continues to practise. "Becoming a director was certainly a long-term goal I set my mind on. Earning it at a law firm I grew up in, makes it doubly rewarding." Part of her growth path has been to attend many short courses, She comments, "I still want to complete a certificate course in tax and in advanced property law in the next couple of years." What for Bronwyn is the appeal of practising as an attorney? "The four A's: Ability,
Philip says, "I didn't originally set out to work abroad – it was a wonderful opportunity that arose after I completed my masters at Cambridge University. That said, the biggest draw to working in London is the variety of opportunities and the proximity to Europe. My wife and I have travelled considerably, which has been fantastic." He says of the biggest impact on his life in the past few years has been personal, "My wife and I have moved country twice. Making it on our own, together, in a new country – without much of a support network – has
been incredibly rewarding."
Estelle says, "The draw to practising as an attorney is the interaction of technical legal aspects with real-time businesses and transactions. I enjoy understanding the businesses of the owner/operator clients I work with and tailoring a legal solution for them. The diversity of dealing with a land owner in the Northern Cape and a City lawyer from London on the same day appeals."
Lauren Becker (née Barnett)
Lauren completed her articles at Werksmans and has been practising there as an attorney ever since. "I was promoted to director in 2016 – this was a great achievement for me as I had always hoped to be a director, and in fact, specifically at Werksmans.
The appeal of law is that Lauren has "found my work to be stimulating, challenging and enjoyable. There is never dull moment in law!" She adds, "Werksmans is home away from home – I enjoy the culture of the firm and the people with whom I work. I enjoy working with and mentoring junior attorneys and work closely with the junior members of our team."