September 6, 2017

Observations of a legal secretary

On the face of it, I will be considered your typical “job hopper”, having only 16 years of experience as a legal secretary and at least 9 companies on my resume. Admittedly, I must come across as the not-too-very-stable employee.

Though this may not look very good on paper, it has allowed me to experience different personalities, which is very important in deciding who you want to ultimately devote the rest of your working life to. It has also allowed me to observe the different attitudes of different attorneys and also the attitude of the Courts towards the law in general. These attitudes are equally important, because although this profession has chosen me rather than me choosing it, I tend to develop a passion for most things I become a part of, and therefore I have a passion for the law.

I remember sitting in my first lecture when I was doing my Paralegal Diploma. We were discussing the purpose of the law, the legal profession etc., and I remember this feeling of disappointment but also a warm sense of pride when the lecturer listed the special characteristics that attorneys are required to have in order to succeed in a legal career. Among these are impeccable honesty, the ability to elicit utmost trust and respect from his/her clients and colleagues, to have a well-developed sense of fairness and justice, and the willingness to serve people.

There was a feeling of disappointment because I realised that, with the exception of one or two attorneys that I have had the privilege of working with, most attorneys don’t possess any of these characteristics, and proud because these characteristics made attorneys sound somewhat heroic, heroism that I assist with on a daily basis. Although it is stated that these characteristics are required to succeed in a legal career, for me it goes much deeper than that, simply because of the purpose of law. There are many views on this, all of which pretty much boils down to the same thing, but my favourite being “to ensure a safe and peaceful society in which individuals’ rights are respected”.

So, whilst these characteristics may be important to succeed in a legal career, it is more important for me that attorneys possess these characteristics by reason of the fact that they are custodians of the law and therefore need these characteristics to effectively protect the law so it can fulfil its purpose.

Looking at the attitude of the Court and quoting Adv. Barry Roux in the Oscar Pistorius case saying “the biggest problem facing the law in South Africa is the lack of certainty”. Adv. Roux in his statement referred to the criminal justice system however, in my opinion this may very well be applied to the civil justice system.

The Courts contribute largely to this state of affairs, whether it be by issuing practice directives and reaching verdicts that are completely inconsistent with the Rules of Court or by simply being inconsistent in their decisions, this creates uncertainty. By way of an example, I worked with two different clients, two different law firms, the facts and circumstances of the cases being identical and therefore the same approach followed in trying to resolve these cases, judgment in the one case was refused whilst judgment in the other was granted despite their identical similarities.

On a lighter note though, despite these hurdles that our legal system face, I will continue to execute my duties with the same passion…and I have to say, it is pretty awesome to listen to cases like the Oscar Pistorius and Mugabe vs Engels cases and know exactly what is meant by phrases like dolus evantualis or private prosecution etc., and that is all thanks to my profession as a legal secretary.

Author: Jolene Goeieman

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