Women attorneys panel takes AGM discussion to the next level

The group of women attorneys who drafted an outcomes document from a panel discussion on ‘A better deal for women in practice’ at the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) annual general meeting on 2 April 2016, met with LSSA Co-Chairpersons Jan van Rensburg and Mvuso Notyesi to discuss taking the objectives document forward. The meeting was attended by Beverley Clarke, Reshotketsoe Malefo and Dr Jeanne-Mari Retief; Thina Siwendu and Seehaam Samaai joined by conference call.

LSSA Co-Chairpersons Mvuso Notyesi (back left) and Jan van Rensburg, with Dr Jeanne-Mari Retief (centre), and front, Reshotketsoe Malefo, LSSA Manco member Mimie Memka and Beverley Clarke at a meeting in June to discuss taking forward objectives identified to empower women lawyers in practice.

It was agreed at the meeting that the panel would draft an action plan focused on priority objectives identified during the AGM panel discussion (see 2016 (Jun) DR 13), which were as follows:

• Better representation of women in the organised legal profession: The profession should work toward a 50% representivity for women in the structures of the organised legal profession.
• Monitoring and evaluation: Structural changes need to be implemented through proper monitoring and evaluation. It was proposed that the LSSA draft a gender charter and gender strategies that can serve as a practical guideline to the profession and to put systems in place to assist in the implementation processes of these policies.
The LSSA should also formulate a system to encourage transparency by the government to ensure monitoring and evaluation of the briefing patterns by government to women lawyers. Indications from the Summit on Briefing Patterns in the Legal Profession held on 31 March 2016 (see 206 (May) DR 6), are that women are not receiving work from government departments and state-owned enterprises.
• Creating an enabling environment for tracking and monitoring young attorneys: Creating a good and nurturing environment for all young lawyers is very important. Mentorship by women lawyers is encouraged and should be promoted. A monitoring and tracking system for this purpose needs to be developed to ensure that young attorneys receive the most out of their careers, and to assist in identifying the reasons why women lawyers opt out of practice.
• Practicalities relating to employment equity and transformation plans: It was acknowledged that large law firms have the capacity and infrastructure to develop plans and practices to level the playing field for women in the legal profession, but this is unfortunately not the case for small to medium-sized law firms. Therefore, it is important to formulate effective procedures that promote transformation throughout the profession. To do this it is necessary to assess how transformation plans are being formulated, how committees are structured and how accountability and transparency can be ensured.
• It is important to understand that women should not be seen as a group apart with special needs, but that plans should nonetheless be developed around maternity leave that will empower women and also ease their transition back into practice.
• The new Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 should include an appropriate section that deals with gender transformation in the legal profession.
• Training in business skills: Many women lawyers may not have the necessary experience to run a practice and preliminary investigations have shown that there are no real packages or business courses tailored to women attorneys. There should be more programmes in place that promote this form of self-empowerment.