Myrle Vanderstraeten joined Gleason Publications in October 1998. Assistant editor to David Gleason on without prejudice from October 2001 until March 2011, Myrle took over the reins as editor in April 2011.
Passionate about the publication, she has revelled in the challenges to maintain the magazine’s reputation as “a rare source of valuable information” and views the entry into the digital world as an exciting step that will expand without prejudice’s footprint into other jurisdictions.
In discussions with lawyers in various fields, candidate attorneys and from comments received from graduates who have appeared in our Top Student feature over the past few years, a missing link has increasingly been brought to the fore: a need for law students to recognise how early they must apply for vacation programmes and articles if they are to have a snowball's hope in hell of getting articles.
Headline after headline this month has been of disappointing economic data. What began in August 2007 and became known as the American sub-prime crisis, evolved into a global credit crisis by the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2008. In September 2008 Nouriel Roubini observed, “Whenever there is a systemic banking crisis there is a need to recapitalise the banking/financial system to avoid an excessive and destructive credit contraction.
Crime has dominated headlines in the past few weeks. It is depressingly apparent that our law enforcement officers have neither the ability nor the will to do the job with which they are tasked. It does not fill citizens or visitors with much confidence to learn that of the 155 534 SAPS members only 116 201 were able to handle firearms competently at even the minimum standard required. A South African shootist once told me that it is a demanding sport requiring many hours of training if one is to hit the target. She despaired of people who non-chalantly carry guns but do not go to a shooting range at least once a week. They had a greater chance of putting those they were trying to protect in danger than anything else, she said.
July 28 1914; the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia and so started World War One – the Great War – that was to last just over four years before it ended with Germany's formal surrender. The fighting was to end at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918. without prejudice will carry a small feature on this War that changed the world so dramatically in the November issue of the magazine.
May 7 saw the South African electorate going to the polls for the fifth time in the country's democratic lifetime. It came as no surprise that the ANC was voted back into power and, if its majority was more than some would have liked, it was pretty well in line with forecasts. What did disappoint me is how little importance appears to have been attached to the Nkandla issue by ANC supporters.
The endless, very slow moving queues; people setting up bridge tables to pass the time; enterprising people rushing off to buy cool drinks and fast food to sell to those standing with amazing patience in the human traffic jam; the announcement of an extra day's voting because not everyone had been given the opportunity to make their cross and photographs of the elderly who walked for miles to ensure that at last, in their twilight years, they would be able to vote as a person equal to all others – these images and more are fresh in my memory.
This year, for the first time, we invited all universities in South Africa that have a law faculty to participate in our Top Student feature. Four of the seven universities that have not previously featured sent us details of their top students and we hope that in 2015 we will have a full house. We now feature top students from 13 South African universities. This year 35.5% of the top places went to men over last year's 30.1%. Comparing that by extracting only those universities that also appeared last year shows an increase of nearly 4.5%. It is also interesting to note that 38% of the top students from universities appearing for the first time were men.
February 14 dawned just an ordinary day but, less than a third of the way through it, a remarkable man had left us: friend, colleague, publisher, columnist, watchdog; we are all of us the poorer without him; the landscape is a little less colourful and the joie de vivre that much less joyful. David took delight in throwing down challenges; this tribute I view as a challenge to enable readers who did not have the privilege of meeting him, to know a little of David, the man behind the words.
2014 – A new year and one that has at least two notable events; one will be celebrated and the other, commemorated. In July 1914 the First World War began; The Great War shattered the lives and dreams of millions of people. An horrendous war that swallowed young men like fodder and saw the use of chemical weapons and aerial bombings that contributed to the deaths of more than 16 million people, both military and civilian. It did not end “by Christmas" as many leaders at first believed and was considered “the end of the age of innocence."
It is critically important to keep abreast of technology and we are proud to advise that without prejudice has gone digital. Not only will you be able to buy and view your copy of without prejudice online (or hard copy of course) but you will also be able to search for articles going back in time. It is a mammoth undertaking to upload 12 years' worth of magazines; so far we have 2013 up and running. We are uploading past issues starting with the most recent years.
I recently found myself driving off from “my Spar" with two unpaid for Christmas decorations, (each valued at R49) still dangling from my little finger; I hadn't put them in my trolley for fear of them being broken or scratched. Rushing as always to reach the next destination on time, I was unable to go back to the shop immediately but the following week spoke to the owner; his response was one of a degree of amazement and definite gratitude. “Thank you for being so honest" he said several times.
There is a lot to be said for going on holiday and leaving the office behind. I usually check e-mails, respond where essential and frequently edit or request articles when I have read about something interesting. Last month I was in the UK briefly before flying off to Turkey and decided at the last minute that I was not going to be tempted to work. I “pretended" e-mails did not exist, ignored calls where numbers were blocked or were unknown and took a trip back in time to where there was no technology ensuring you were up-to-date every minute of the day. I have returned with fresh eyes and a rejuvenated mind; nothing fell down and the only drawback was the extraordinary stack of e-mails that stared accusingly at me.
One of the greatest gifts, particularly given the number of hours involved, is a passion for one's job. It always surprises me how very few people really love what they do and don't mind Monday mornings.
At the without prejudice Editorial Board meeting in January we dis- cussed the concerns being expressed about the LLB. The very next day the LLB Summit: Legal Education in Crisis? was announced. The possibility of conducting a survey was discussed at the meeting but with this announce- ment it took on a new dimension.
What is it about power that has the ability to corrupt? In this past month the Vatican Bank's Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was arrested by police on allegations of planning to smuggle into Italy €20m in cash from Switzerland on behalf on behalf of shipping industry friends. Officially called the Institute for Works of Religion – IOR, the Bank was dubbed “the most secret bank in the world" last year by Forbes. The Vatican Bank manages Catholic Church funds amounting to more than €7bn. It made a net profit of €86.6m last year.
This issue carries the final Top Student feature of 2013. The Class of 2007 has gone in many different directions in a very short space of time; ambitious achievers, I look forward to catching up with them in five years' time. It is good to be able to pass on some positive news. The CIPC has been roundly criticised in previous issues of the magazine for indiscriminate de-registrations. It would appear that, as a result of an appeal by ABSA against Judge Henney's finding that, in terms of s82(4) of the Companies Act, CIPC has sole authority to restore a deregistered company (in other words the court has no power to do so in terms of s83(4)), things may be changing.
In recognition of the interest in Africa and growing foreign investment in terms of project finance as well the resulting work for lawyers, without prejudice has introduced an Africa section. The enthusiasm with which this suggestion was taken up can be seen from the fact that we have 11 fascinating articles in the first 30 pages of this issue. The diversity of the continent and anticipated growth ensures wide ranging work for lawyers, and interesting articles for without prejudice. There is something slightly different about lawyers, or at least a large percentage of them...
Now in its 11th year, the Top Student feature has grown to include 73 of the countries brightest LLB students. The women outdid the men, again. There were 21 men and 52 women. By comparison with the 63 2011 Top Students, 22 of whom were men. There are a greater number of graduates who see themselves starting their own law firms in 10 years time. This is a particularly interesting trend; it comes at a time when many firms both large and small are merging and the general view is one of consolidation. These top students show an individualistic outlook and perhaps they see things through different eyes. Another new development was the number of students who have on their radars the possibility of working as in-house counsel or moving into the corporate world; this can only be a good thing. All the Top Students are to be congratulated on the huge effort they have made; I will watch their progress with interest.
Without prejudice welcomes Baker and McKenzie as a member of the “magic circle." We are delighted and look forward to the firm's input. Now in its 11th year, the Top Student feature has grown to include 73 of the countries brightest LLB students. The women outdid the men, again. There were 21 men and 52 women. By comparison with the 63 2011 Top Students, 22 of whom were men. There are a greater number of graduates who see themselves starting their own law firms in 10 years time. This is a particularly interesting trend; it comes at a time when many firms both large and small are merging and the general view is one of consolidation. These top students show an individualistic outlook and perhaps they see things through different eyes.
The March issue of without prejudice traditionally carries the rankings of the legal advisers as awarded by sister publi- cation, DealMakers. This year, for the first time and due to circumstances outside without prejudice's control, the magazine was not distributed at the DealMakers Gala Awards but we have included photographs of the evening and will be distributing the March issue to the record number of people who attended the event. It will come as no surprise to read that the value of listed company deals in 2012 fell by R305bn from 2011, R279bn from R584bn.
In the December issue of without prejudice Carmel Rickard wrote on the late former Chief Justice, Arthur Chaskalson's speech made to the Cape Law Society on November 9 criticising the proposed Legal Practice Bill for the detrimental impact it would have on the legal profession. Not even one month later, on December 1, he had died leaving those in high places a powerful message about the Legal Practice Bill, “But first I want to lay the foundation for the proposition that the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession are central pillars of our constitutional democracy and that we should be astute to ensure that there is no erosion of these fundamental principles." Justice Chaskalson, first President of the Constitutional Court and Chief Justice of South Africa was subject to scrutiny and, as a celebrity, was fair game for both praise and censure. On his death, tributes that acknowledge his enormous contribution to a demo- cratic South Africa flowed in from all corners of the earth.
2012 will go down as a year punctuated by change among the legal firms in South Africa, and abroad. Among others, Bowman Gilfillan opened two new offices – one in Uganda and one in Dar es Salaam. Adams & Adams announced the opening of offices in Tanzania (including Zanzibar), Burundi and an OAPI office in Cameroon. We saw the end of Dewey & LeBoeuf and the takeover of the Johannesburg office by Baker & McKenzie. Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs opened offices in Rwanda and Burundi and, in its most recent announcement, a takeover of Brink Cohen Le Roux in order to create “a one-stop-shop service to the mining sector." Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr and Spoor & Fisher announced an agreement which would give clients a wide range of services; the CDH IP Practice joined Spoor & Fisher.
It is said that the English are obsessed with the weather. Of South Africans it could be said that we are obsessed by energy matters (along with the state of the roads and corruption) and over the past few months without prejudice has carried some interesting articles on the topic. They have not been particularly encouraging.
The number of articles written on competition matters is indicative of the impact it is making. And while, as with most laws, the intention is good the rulings made do not always appear to be in the best interest of the country; sometimes it appears political expediency seems more important. This is unfortunate and Geoff Parr's article on page 6 paints a picture of a popular misconception about skilled workers and unskilled workers retaining their jobs when it comes to M&A. The public interest issue is one that will always be controversial and the impact of its use should be very carefully considered.
This month we revelled in the Olympics; held our collective breath as our athletes looked likely to be medal contenders and cheered as loudly as we would have done had we been there when they took the podium. Three gold medals, two silvers and a bronze – a fabulous tally and, given the lack of funding for our sporting talents, probably more than we should reasonably have anticipated.
When South Africa became a democracy there were, for me, three essential elements that would now be available to citizens regardless of creed, colour or gender. In no particular order – an independent legal system on which everyone could count to be fair; the possibility to be the very best in whatever field was selected and education for all – without which there is nothing else.
One disappointing refrain weaved through the comments from our Top Students of 2002 and 2006 and it is one I that I now hear from the Candidate Attorneys who were the graduates of 2011 – the state of the courts. It is not only the physical state but it is also the attitude.
Reports of the numbers of postal workers striking vary from scores to thousands. The reason for the strike is a demand by casual workers, sourced from labour brokers, to be employed permanently. Currently the Post Office is, apparently, only prepared to hire people for 12 months. This, Mervin King of the Communications Workers Union said, is not good enough. “As far as we are concerned, the Post Office has money. If not they must go to government to ask for some." For government one should, of course, read – taxpayers.
I commented in the April issue that the Top Student feature appeared for the 10th year in succession. This issue carries Where are they now? and features those original 16 2002 graduates; it makes for interesting reading. I must extend an apology to the graduates of 2006; having compiled the feature to include the Top Students both 10 and five years back, we took the decision to carry one in May and the other in June. I put several under pressure to send me information and photographs and I hope they will not be too annoyed to find they will only appear next month. The bottom line is that both the "2002" and the "2006" groups are worthy of an exclusive feature.
This is the 10th year in which without prejudice has carried its annual Top Students at the Top Universities feature. In 2003 without prejudice was at the start of its second full year in the market place and there were 16 top final year LLB students from the five universities featured in the inaugural survey – UCT, Natal, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Rhodes. That year neither RAU (as the University of Johannesburg then was) nor Wits had finalised their top students of 2002. When it came to 2004 the students of all seven of the universities were included. 2007 saw the entry of Stellenbosch University and the University of the Free State contributed from 2010. without prejudice will attempt to contact those 16 graduates and it will be interesting to see how many of them have stayed in the law and where they are now practising. This will appear in the May issue of the publication along with our, Where are they now? feature that keeps up with the Top Students five years back.
February is always an excessively busy month in the Gleason Publication office. Figures are checked, sent back for verification, checked again and, sometimes, again and again. The end result makes all the effort worthwhile and it is little wonder that without prejudice's sister publication, DealMakers is held in such high esteem; there is no other M&A and General Corporate Finance publication like it in South Africa and international outfits do not follow the same criteria. DealMakers' results only reflect the work done by South African offices of tombstone parties on deals undertaken by firms listed on the JSE. The highlight of the finalisation of rankings is the DealMakers Gala Awards evening and, included in the acknowledgements are of course, the law firms.
It is said that one of the certainties of life is change. Of course there is also the French saying Le plus ça change le plus c'est la même chose. Effectively they are one and the same for eventually the change becomes the certainty, if only for a while. For those of us who do not object to change it is seen as a challenge and a break from routine, which is the killer. The current state of the economy and the consequent strategic plans that firms make have ensured that change is very visible. This is particularly so in the legal sector where, for many years, people started out as candidate attorneys and retired as partner. Ten years ago in South Africa there were few partners who moved and even fewer teams who left en masse.
2011 proved a difficult year for many individuals, companies and countries; the global economy was dismal and the downward trend shows no sign of abating, as David Gleason graphically describes in from my window; the so-called Arab Spring that began in December last year is far from over; many people have lost their lives, and nearly 29 000 people died in the devastating tsunami and earth- quake that hit Japan while hundreds of Americans lost their lives in tornadoes that hit the country. Steven Jobs, who changed the way we think about communicating, died after a valiant fight against cancer. A hacking and bribery scandal saw News of the World close its doors after 168 years.
“We are the 99%" has become instantly recognisable as the slogan of Occupy Wall Street. The demonstrations in New York City (which have now spread to, it is claimed, at least 900 other cities) have been called “'The American Spring," and a “democratic awakening" by some while others, less enamoured of the event, have called it leaderless and a group of rabble-rousers.
The opportunity to be part of a new magazine is rare and even more seldom is it that the publication is a “one of a kind." I was extremely fortunate to have been invited by David Gleason to be a part of the without prejudice team at its inception. We started without prejudice in October 2001 and you will see from the copy of that issue that the magazine had a very different look. While this may have changed over the years what has not changed is our aim to produce a magazine of note, one that provides current and relevant information written in a way that does not make your eyes glaze over and your mind slip into neutral. In this fast-paced world knowledge is essential and accurate information vital for informed opinions. Our objective is to provide that to our readers through articles that are concise, critically analytical and, at the same time, interesting.
2011 has been savage. The world has reeled from the impact of both natural and manmade disasters; from earthquakes and tsunamis to uprisings, civil war and famine to collapsing economies. The "gloom and doom" forecasters have had a field day and there have only been royal weddings and sporting achievements to lighten the load. It has already been suggested that Hurricane Irene will cost insurers between $1.5 and $3 billion to cover claims and this, according to Eqecat Inc, an American catastrophic risk management firm, is just the tip of the iceberg as the total damage could be between $5 billion and $7 billion if uninsured losses are brought to account. Of course, if the approximately $70 billion in insured losses as a result of Hurricane Katrina is the yardstick, this really isn't too bad at all.
July cannot be said to have been a quiet month – the headlines have evoked pictures of aggression, destruction and suffering and for many July 2011 will not hold happy memories. One event that could not have occurred at a worse time from the perspective of SA media is the News of the World phone hacking scandal which brought to an end the 168-year history of Britain's largest selling Sunday paper. Deliberation on the South African Protection of Information Bill resumed on July 25. Widely considered a muzzle to prevent media from exposing corruption in both the public and private sector, the hacking scandal is a wonderful bit of ammunition to have come government's way.