“There is a concern within members of the legal profession that out of 2 641 advocates and 12 373 law firms, only a few are receiving most of the lucrative work from government departments and SOEs thus leaving a large portion of other advocates and law firms with less or no work.”
South African government departments and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are guilty of perpetuating unequal distribution of legal work in a pattern that has traces of racial and gender biases.
This is captured in a research survey commissioned by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) following an outcry about the slow pace of transformation of the legal industry. The findings of this study must be treated with extreme caution because its method was weak (See note at the end of this article).
The study notes that “There is a concern within members of the legal profession that out of 2 641 advocates and 12 373 law firms, only a few advocates and a few law firms are receiving most of the lucrative work from government departments and SOEs thus leaving a large portion of other advocates and law firms with less or no work.”
The findings of the study informed the launching of the Procurement Protocols for South African lawyers. The Procurement Protocols can be seen as a transformation charter of sort for the legal industry.
The study surveyed the distribution of legal work from 5 January 2015 to 12 February 2016 by national government departments and SOE’s to advocates and law firms.
The study found amongst other things the following trends:
- The work is not distributed evenly among lawyers
- There is a significant gender gap disadvantaging women.
- A handful of black male lawyers followed by their white male counterparts are the major recipient of legal work from Government Departments.
- A certain minority of back female advocates are the major recipient of briefs.
- Junior advocates across the board are generally overlooked.
The study concludes that “government departments mostly give their work to black male advocates and black female advocates. They are also the ones who are most paid.
“SOEs too give their work mostly to black male junior advocates and specific white male senior advocates. In terms of payment, specific white senior male advocates are the most paid. Female advocates, with the exception of black female advocates, receive less work or no work from government departments and SOEs.”
The study recommended that a body must be formed to survey, monitor and report briefing patterns and “ensure that certain individuals and law firms are not favoured over others and that work is consistently distributed to all law firms and across all the races…”
The also recommended that a survey of briefing patterns be conducted in the private sector to “ensure that the distribution of legal work in all sectors of the society is made known to the general public and monitored.”
The study also made interesting pronouncements about the demographics of the industry:
In 2015 there were 2 641 practising advocates who are members of the General Council of the Bar (GCB). The GCB’s race and gender representation is as follows:
- White males = 1374
- White females = 428
- Black males = 405
- Black females 132
- Coloured males = 63
- Coloured females = 46
- Indian males = 117
- Indian females = 76
There were 12 373 law firms in South Africa and 24 330 practising attorneys. For some reasons the study makes no racial and gender breakdown of these numbers.
The study reported in this article is titled: “Distribution of Legal Work: Draft Report on Research Findings on the Distribution of Legal Work in the Legal Profession in South Africa, and Report on the Summit on Briefing Patterns in the Legal Profession”
The title suggests that it is a draft but it seems that only this version was published which means its content and the ideas it pushes are in circulation and might be taken as a truth of suit. It seems as if the people behind this report are sneaking in its conclusions and ideas into the public domain without taking the full responsibility of doing so. In deed some of the findings from this report have already been reported in the mainstream media. And so they must be highlighted and engaged.
There are serious methodology concerns around this study and mainly the sample used to reach conclusions. To its credit, the study does acknowledge the methodological limitations.
The study notes that it “adopted a hybrid method” mixing qualitative and quantitative approaches. The quantitative chapter took shape through sending survey questionnaires to government departments and SOEs “requesting data in terms of race, gender, seniority and how they distribute their legal work to advocates and law firms.”
The requests for information were sent to 49 SOEs. Only seven SOEs responded. And requests for information were sent to 43 government departments. Only 7 government departments responded.