Our most recent update on Commercial Law Training in South Africa was some time ago, when solicitor Eithne Lynch told us of plans to expand our one week course into a year long programme. Eithne’s post gives full insight into the original course here.
Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI) and the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) felt that while the course had gone a long way to boosting the knowledge and confidence of participants, economic imbalance is still evident by the small number of attorneys from the majority – or black – community practising commercial law. It was agreed that the best way to erode this imbalance is through skill transfer and an extended programme of training.
Our plans came to fruition in January 2012 when our 20 participants went through a rigorous selection process to be accepted onto the 2012 Commercial Law Training Programme. The year ahead entailed a variety of intensive elements designed to firmly lift commercial law from the academic to the practical.
Firstly, participants partake in a one year distance learning Corporate Law Certificate with the University of South Africa (UNISA). This is followed by the IRLI Preliminary Course in Commercial Law and the recent Commercial Law Drafting Course.
Based on exam results, assignments and interviews, the top eight participants are selected to go on placement with a commercial law firm or enterprise for three months. The remaining twelve receive twenty hours mentoring from high level South African commercial law practitioners. It is also open to the participants to have the IRLI lawyers spend time in their place of work to allow assessment of work practices and systems, appraisal of work level and standard, and tailored advice and assistance.
Finally participants are encouraged to impart commercial knowledge to their local community by conducting introductory business law seminars to small enterprises. This allows participants to use their knowledge to encourage greater contribution to the market economy and provide valuable legal assistance to local businesses, while also opening up a potential client base for participants.
Last week saw the conclusion of the first LSSA/IRLI Commercial Law Drafting Course led by South African commercial law veteran Henry Bennett, formerly of DLA Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. However, the dimension of this new programme that I found most insightful was the office visits and the chance to see beyond the participant we greet in the classroom into their working life as a lawyer. We were impressed with what we were greated with and welcomed the opportunity to sit down to delve deeper into the difficulties faced by the black legal community. What is clear is that astute strategies have been put in place to build the capacity and resources of these small firms, but businesses are slow to move away from the comfort of a large firm to the somewhat more uncertain waters of a one or two man practice. Moves are being made within government to ensure more public commercial contracts are issued to black lawyers which should get the ball rolling, and IRLI hopes to work further with these lawyers on how they might attract business clients.
National Women’s Day fell during our week in South Africa, which was warmly celebrated by the LSSA. We were treated to a truly inspiring talk from my own LSSA counterpart Nomsa Sethosa. It’s clear the pride and bravery of those South African women who marched against apartheid in 1956 is not lost today and its celebration is a shining example to countries like Ireland.
The next steps are to commence placements and mentoring, which are due to start the first week in September. Commercial heavyweights Webber Wentzel, Edward Nathan Sonnenberg, DLA Cliffe Dekker, Eversheds solicitors and mining company Xstrata have all kindly agreed to take a participant on placement, as well as partake in mentoring. We also have two participants, Martin Sambo and Ntombenhle Rikhotso, who will be undergoing two month placements here in Dublin with William Fry and Eversheds. We look forward to returning the warm welcome!
By Rachel Power