A local attorney has hailed the signing into law of a new legal practice bill, which will likely result in the formation of single regulatory body for both attorneys and advocates. The new body, which will be called the SA Legal Practice Council, will seek to bridge the divide between the two respective legal professions.
The bill was signed into law on Wednesday by President Jacob Zuma, having been in the works since the time of the country’s first democratic Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar.
June Marks, director of June Marks Attorneys, welcomed the new bill but warned that it would take a bit of time before the bill reached fruition. This was because an interim forum first needed to be established to negotiate with the current Law Societies and Bar Councils, before any transition to a singular body could be made.
“The transition won’t happen overnight, but it is certainly a welcome transition from my perspective, as a reform measure for the legal profession,” she said.
Assuming the forum did its job swiftly and correctly, and that both the Law Societies and Bar Councils cooperated during the transition period, Marks said a new set of rules and guidelines would likely have to be created that catered for attorneys and advocates as a collective.
She described the bill as a positive step towards bridging the divide between two professions that weren’t that different. She admitted that she would have like to see the changes go a bit further, as she did not see the need for two different legal professions, especially since the two shared the very same qualifications.
According to Marks, the new bill would also be a positive step for the layman. One of the major issues at present was the astronomical legal fees everyday people were being forced to fork out, which wasn’t being helped by the divide between attorneys and advocates. With many attorneys hiring advocates, the average layman was often being forced to pay for both individuals.
“You end up paying the attorney their rate, and you end up paying the advocate their rate as well,” she said.
What was complicating matters even further was that the advocacy profession was going largely unchecked, and they were being allowed to charge whatever fees the wished. However, Marks said the new bill would likely bring an end to this, by forming a regulation whereby advocates were obliged to inform people upfront how much they would be charging. It would also allow the SA Legal Practice Council to decide on how much advocates were allowed to charge.
She expressed hope that the new bill would make hiring legal personal much easier for the man on the street. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)