As a young attorney I am often confronted with the question whether there is a body that governs the legal profession or whether we, as the peacemakers of a nation, have carte blanche to act as we wish, not abiding to any rules or regulations. Are we free to do as we please? Strangely enough I do not feel offended by questions of this nature, and to be blatantly honest, I can comprehend why such a question may be asked. I once read a quote by Mario Puzo that is self-explanatory: “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”
In South Africa there are four statutory law societies in place: The Cape Law Society, The Law Society of the Northern Provinces, The KwaZulu-Natal Law Society and The Free State Law Society. Every attorney in our country is a member of the law society in which he / she is practising law. Each of these law societies had their own separate sets of rules which applied to their members. This worked all good and well until in more recent times law firms started to branch out to different parts of the country.
National law firms normally have offices and branches in various provinces and different sets of rules would apply to each different branch of the same firm – this created chaos and led to some untenable situations.
Little did we know back in 2009, when discussions on the nationalising of rules for attorneys initially kicked-off, that all South African lawyers will be painted with the same brush seven years later!
The unification of the four sets of rules was a long and complex process. During 2014 attorneys had to approve the new standardised rules at annual general meetings of the provincial law societies, where after the Judges President and Chief Justice had to give the proverbial thumbs up. These discussions and negotiations lasted nearly a decade and after the long wait, the National Rules for the Attorneys’ Profession finally came into operation on 1 March 2016.
The Rules consist of eight parts and 55 rules in total. Some of these rules include inter alia rules regarding the general practice of attorneys, accounting rules for law firms, rules on the conduct of attorneys and the process of disciplinary proceedings against attorneys whose conduct is unprofessional and dishonourable.
So, the simple answer to the popular question I am often asked is, yes we do! As with many other professions legal practitioners are also bound to their own set of rules.
Law is an imperfect profession in which success can rarely be achieved without some sacrifice of principle. Thus all practicing lawyers — and most others in the profession — will necessarily be imperfect, especially in the eyes of young idealists. There is no perfect justice, just as there is no absolute in ethics. But there is perfect injustice, and we know it when we see it. ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Letters to a Young Lawyer
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).