Plight of a black law graduate
05 Apr 2016
We recently received this thought provoking letters from one of our readers. It raises many questions about transformation in the legal profession and brings to light the many challenges facing black law graduates.
(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
I bemoan the lack of transformation in the judiciary. We constantly read about the white and male dominated industry and skewed briefing patterns to the exclusion of black Counsel. At the root cause of this is the inherent structural inequality that exists from day one of entering law School. With the difficulties faced by an average black student pertaining to economic subjugation amongst other things, we have to work thrice as hard to not only get that LLB, but do so with good marks, to be able to even dream of securing an interview with a law firm for articles, that is just a part of it, black law Graduates have it tough in this field.
When one studies towards an LLB the aim is mostly to become a lawyer. Either through articles to get admitted as an attorney two years later or serve pupillage and get admitted as an advocate a year later. I will first touch on issues of securing articles. It’s a nightmare. Statistics show that there are more black law graduates coming through the ranks yet more white graduates are securing articles. An LLB degree without admission is worthless, legally impotent. Here is the deal breaker, most law firms, whom I apply to on a daily basis, require an LLB Graduate to have own transport. Now, this is a deal breaker with a potential employer but then how do you begin to expect someone, a black child, straight out of University to own a car? One can barely make ends meet and you are expected to own a car to be even considered for a shortlist. With a Study loan to still work towards paying off. I remember securing an interview with a firm in Bryanston and the first thing the director asked me was whether I have a car, my answer was a demotivating no. The disinterest from the director was visible and the interview was only academic, reduced to a few minutes just so that “I did not come to the interview for nothing”, his own words, not mine. I submit this is not feasible for black graduates and only applies to our detriment. And then there is an issue of language, a requirement in some firms that you have to be bi lingual (Speak both English and Afrikaans fluently). Though I welcome a firm’s prerogative to set their own recruitment criteria, the issue with Afrikaans, serves as a means of exclusion to black applicants whom mostly cannot muster. I stand corrected, but legal practice is mostly concluded in English and thus it begs answers as to why the requirement to be able to speak Afrikaans, if a law firm’s clientele comprises of Afrikaans speaking individuals, I doubt it follows that they cannot speak English, thus rendering the Afrikaans requirement suspect and exclusionary.
The meagre salaries offered to candidate attorneys can be deemed exploitative at best and downright tantamount to slavery at worst. With a candidate attorney earning as less as three thousand rands per month. This I can contend with, albeit with a heavy heart since it is articles I am actually after and not necessarily financial gain, to gain the much needed experience to become a lawyer. Which, as it stands, are close to impossible to secure. Two years out of University I am still searching for articles. It is not for a lack of trying on my part. Then there is an issue of serving pupillage, which mind you is far more difficult to secure than articles. The paralyzing prospect of doing pupillage for a year without any monetary compensation during the course of training is a deterrent for black graduates to even apply, given our harsh economic conditions compared to our white counterparts, who can make do without a salary for that period owing to a secure financial background.
While we sit in wait for articles the clock ticks, we come across jobs outside the legal profession to enable one to keep the wolf from the door. We fade into obscurity and all that studying towards an LLB becomes worthless. Now, in the field where black graduates hardly get a nod, it becomes impossible to have a large pool of practicing black lawyers. Thus it will always be dominated by whites if the status quo remains unchanged. As it stands it’s a slippery slope for black graduates. Start at the bottom, not enough black Law graduates secure articles let alone get admitted as lawyers. What measures are the law Society and Government alike doing to address the plight of disadvantaged Law Graduates? Never mind skewed briefing patterns, that is just jumping the gun, the crisis is bigger. Start at the bottom. The roots are unstable for the tree to even bear fruits. The reality with Black and White graduates is that we are not the same and are treated equal in recruitment. Equal treatment of unequal people heightens inequality. Bemoaning skewed briefing patterns while black graduates can hardly get a foot at the door is barking towards the wrong tree. Start at the bottom.