By Mashudu Mabogo
Melius De Villiers once said that ‘it is absolutely most undesirable that women should be allowed to become practicing members of the legal profession.’ That was many years ago. Many women faced uphill battles to enter the legal profession and even when they were accepted into the profession, they still faced ostracism from their male counterparts in the legal community. Times have changed since then, but more still needs to be done. In our quest for fair representation, we must take a moment to celebrate the women who have paved and lit the way for women in the legal profession today.
Women, from all corners of the world can contribute positively in the legal profession; as attorneys, judges, legal advisors, advocates, compliance officers, etc. in different areas of the law such as family law, human rights law, labour law, medicine law, insolvency law, street law, commercial law – the list is endless.
You may ask yourself “what does it take to succeed as a woman in the legal profession”. A woman needs the right legal skills, coupled with personal attributes such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, resilience, self-confidence, exceptional communication skills, passion and commitment to the profession and most importantly, a willingness to serve people. When you take a closer look at these qualities, it becomes clear that they are really the same basket of skills and personal attributes expected of our male counterparts.
Another question perhaps is; “what I can, as a woman, bring to the legal profession?”. Women are different the world over. Some women are calm and gentle in their nature, some not so much. Some women are conservative, whilst others are liberal. There is no single archetype of women, in the legal profession. One of our best lawyers, Ms Thulisile Madonsela is a soft-spoken woman who had a successful tenure as Public Protector in what was a very adversarial position. The moral of the story is that bringing your best self in the classroom and in practice is honourable, however, our past requires us to courageously create and advocate for spaces in the legal profession for other women to occupy – just as the women before us did. After all, there is strength in numbers.
Lastly, let us explore the requirements for a career in law.
- What should I study to become a lawyer? You need to enrol and complete an LLB degree from an institution of higher learning.
- What happens after I have completed my degree? You can choose to become an attorney or an advocate. There are other career options outside of these conventional routes, however, for this article, we will focus on how to become an attorney or an advocate.
- What is the difference between an attorney and an advocate? Attorneys handle a large variety of affairs for individuals, companies, associations, etc. The work they do range from corporate law, property law, tax law, etc. as well as providing personal advice. Advocates are experts in presenting and arguing cases in court. This requires them to master the law, exercise good judgement and to have the skill to present a case clearly and coherently.
- How do I become an attorney?
- You must complete a contract of articles. During that time, you will work in a law firm as a “candidate attorney” under the guidance of an attorney.
- You must complete a compulsory course in practical legal training.
- You must complete the Attorneys’ Admission Examination.
- Once you have completed articles and passed all exams you are entitled to apply to court to get admitted as an attorney. A person must be regarded as a fit and proper person by the Law Society and the High Court before he/she can be admitted as an attorney.
- Apply to the High Court to be included on the ‘roll’ of advocates.
- Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the ‘Bars’ (the representative body of the advocates' profession with the main purpose to maintain professional standards among its members).
- Complete a period of apprenticeship (‘pupillage’), including an examination. This is a prerequisite to join the Bar.
- Absolutely! Law is present in our everyday life and in everything we do. When you drove to work this morning, you had to make sure that you were not intoxicated. Drunken driving is against the law. It was also important for you to observe traffic lights and drive, follow the speed limit and drive on the left-hand side of the road. There are many other rules regarding safe driving such as wearing a seatbelt, no distracted driving, having only the set amount of people in your vehicle as it permits, not driving recklessly and many more. That it permeates our lives daily is what makes it very interesting.