Time to rethink the role of the advocate in SA law
06 Oct 2021
South Africa’s legal system is in dire need of a shake-up to make it more inclusive and accessible to those who need it the most – and rethinking the role of the advocate is a good place to start, says senior advocate HB Marais SC.
Marais, the co-founder of independent advocates firm Innovation Legal, is a fierce campaigner for making the diverse skills of advocates more accessible to attorneys specifically, and to corporates as well as the general public, indirectly. The firm forms the umbrella organisation for Synergy Advocates group, ADR Junction and Legalution.
“In its current form, legal knowledge is too exclusive, too expensive and beyond the reach of most South Africans. This has to change. The law, and the advocate’s place in it, needs to be streamlined, and become more flexible on where and how advocates can practice,” said Marais.
Independent advocates have not always had an easy ride. Daring to leave the sanctity of mainstream groupings has seen them dubbed at best as mavericks; at worst rebels. Marais dismisses the labels as ‘meaningless’: advocates are still at the Bar, but they are simply not members of a specific society of advocates anymore.
“We’re looking at a new, more agile way of practising law. Independent advocates are at liberty to practice anywhere in South Africa, at the Bar of whichever court they are needed. It could be Cape Town today, Pietermaritzburg tomorrow and Johannesburg next week. These new vistas have opened up an exciting and progressive way of practising, which could ultimately become the common way for the legal fraternity in the future,” emphasised Marais.
“Besides, appearing in court is only a small part of what we do. Attorneys and corporate counsel, indirectly, continuously engage advocates for legal opinions, and we’re increasingly seeing litigation giving way to arbitration, mediation and adjudication. Advocates are heavily involved in training and corporate consultation, and we often focus on specific areas of the law, such as commercial, environmental or family law,” added Marais.
Another major change for the legal industry has been the Covid-driven shift to digital channels, with consultations and even court hearings now taking place through videoconferencing. Marais says vast part of the legal industry have been slow to react to the shift, but the real opportunity for the profession lies in the ability to transform the entire industry to be more relevant and sustainable, as well as to provide better client service across the board.
“Innovation Legal, is not the first formal grouping of advocates to leave the advocates’ society and offer a full range of services. It won’t be the last. The winners will be those who need the law, and the very practice of law itself,” stated Marais.
See also:(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.)