Moneyweb has published an article titled "Reflections of a legal eagle". It looks at the views of the chairman of one of South Africa’s biggest law firms, Werksmans, and the issue of skills shortages in corporate law firms. Here is a portion of the article:
“Corporate lawyers, between 40 and 55 with lots of experience are few
and far between. There are probably only 20 in the whole country. And
all of them are white. What is needed is skills transfer, to train
black lawyers and expose them to this level of corporate work,?? says
Stein gave the example of his firm’s experiences when working on the
Telkom listing. The firm partnered with five small, black-owned firms,
which gave those lawyers exposure to a high-level corporate deal, and
at the same time, ensured that experienced lawyers were on hand.
Part of the problem in skills development is that young lawyers are not
generally exposed to top-level corporate deal making, because that type
of work only goes to large firms with big experienced, corporate law
teams. So to become a good corporate lawyer a newly qualified lawyer
has to work for a major firm. And such firms cannot hire everyone.
The responses to this article were quite sharp and certainly provide a
perspective. What is undeniable is that there aren’t many black
lawyers rising up through the ranks of local law firms. Many of the
large law firms are still very pale at the top. One of the problems
that is not addressed in this article is that promising young, black
lawyers are often headhunted by corporate South Africa which is under
pressure to hire previously disadvantaged professionals in the
government’s effort to address the inequities of the past.
There was a similar article published in Business Day on 28 February 2005 which I have reproduced below:
Experienced corporate lawyers in short supply
chairman of Werksmans, says: “Every director of Werksmans is committed
to being majority owned and controlled by previously disadvantage
individuals as soon as is possible.??
So why then are Werksmans
not black-owned and controlled now, more than 10 years after
liberalisation? Stein says the answer is simple.
“But first let me establish some credibility — after all, this is a politically related subject.??
Stein says that the firm has a long history of commitment and support for racial equality.
Before the 1990s, the firm supported anti-apartheid movements within the severe legal constraints that prevailed.
“We never advised the old government, its ministers, funders or any other political party having similar ideologies.??
says the firm is in the business of practising business law in all its
facets — “a highly specialised yet diverse area of the law??.
The firm practises very little in any other legal disciplines.
Stein says it takes about 10 to 12 years of dedication and, as
importantly, practical exposure to, and experience of, business
transactions before a commercial lawyer can be confident of an
He says it is unfortunate that there are
no more than 20 corporate lawyers in SA who handle the larger business
transactions — and only a handful of them are between 40 and 55 years
“Furthermore, to my knowledge none of them are black??.
Stein says that Werksmans has had a shortage of experienced corporate lawyers for many years.
says there are only a handful of experienced black corporate lawyers —
“we cannot compromise on our levels of service for the sake of
“To do so would put us out of business very quickly.??
He says that credibility and excellence of service form part of the foundation on which the business is built.
“This is not a problem that is unique to the legal profession. Almost every other profession in SA has the same problem.??
Stein says the problem will be solved within the next 10 years.
He says that the universities are producing some outstanding black
graduates and that Werksmans and many other corporate law firms have
been actively employing black graduates for the past 10 years.
Stein says the firm has operated a quota system to ensure it employs a minimum number of blacks each year.
results are beginning to show: We now have directors who have risen
through the ranks and, significantly, we are growing a pool of
previously disadvantaged individuals who are associates and
professional assistants and who will become directors during the next
two to five years.??
The firm has committed substantial time
and money to improving the skills and experience of black lawyers, both
within and outside the firm, he says.
Stein says that the
transfer of skills, and not financial enrichment, is and should remain
the main driver of empowerment in the professional world.
are confident that with the support of our colleagues and the various
law societies around the country, real empowerment will happen within
the next 10 years.??