AJS South Africa

Women in Law

It was poet Adrienne Rich that said –

The most important thing one woman can do for another is expand her sense of actual possibilities.

What this quote comes down to is women supporting women. Women encouraging other women. And women making their colleagues see the best in themselves.

And whilst it is a wonderful notion, it also – in a way – came from necessity. 

The reality is – gender inequality is still rife within South African society. In fact, the disparity between men and women worldwide is frightening. According to the article Women in Management (Quick Take) – 

“In 2021, 26% of all CEOs and managing directors were women, compared to only 15% in 2019.The Fortune Global 500 reported an all-time high of 23 women CEOs in 2021, including six women of color.”

Let’s think about that for a second. 

Only 26% of all CEO’s are women. Fortune 500 celebrated the fact that there is an “all time high” of 23 CEOs in 2021. 

Wait. Is that serious?

“As a heart attack” we would say (with all due respect). 

Gender inequality in the legal profession

Let’s start off with some statistics.

According to the Lexis Nexis Legal tech Report for 2021/22 (conducted in consultation with the Law Society of South Africa), there are currently 13 000 law firms in South Africa. Of that, there are approximately 54 000 professionals which is made up of attorneys, advocates, conveyancers, notaries, and candidate attorneys. 

And while that all sounds positive, women are still in the minority. This is especially obvious when looking at the ownership of law firms. In 2016, 53% of all law firms were owned by men. Only 20% were fully female owned and only 27% had mixed male and female ownership.

5 years later and whilst the numbers have improved, it is only slightly. 47% of law firms are owned by men, 27% are now fully owned by females and 26% of law firms have mixed male and female ownership.

Looking towards the judiciary, the results are as alarming. According to Judges Matter – 

“The gender composition of the judiciary is still misaligned with the gender composition of South African society, which is female dominated. In 2016 the male/female bias was 145 male judges (64%) to 82 female judges (36%). September 2020 sees 134 male judges (58,5%) and 95 female judges (41,5%).”

According to an op-ed by the Daily Maverick titled The appointment of female judges to superior courts is not a favour to women — it’s a favour to justice – 

“Only three full-time justices currently at the Constitutional Court are women and there has been no woman Chief Justice in the 26 years since the establishment of the court.”

The Daily Maverick op-ed goes on further to say that “out of the 14 heads of superior courts in South Africa, only three are women, which is genuinely appalling. This includes the judge presidents of the high courts, the president of the SCA and the Chief Justice.”

It is at this point that we feel it important to welcome the appointment of Justice Mandisa Maya as Deputy Chief Justice, a post she will take on as of 1 September 2022. She is currently the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

When society says that the legal profession is slow to change, it is not kidding! 

WOZA Women in Law

WOZA Women in Law is a non-profit company that is “committed to strengthening the opportunities and visibility of women in law across all legal spheres by augmenting their professional skills through continuous bespoke legal education and training accelerating gender balanced representation.”

And celebrate women, WOZA does – 

“WOZA awards share, highlight and recognise the challenges women in law face in all areas of lawyering.
WOZA awards will foster a band of innovative and next generation thought leaders.
WOZA awards will empower, mentor & strengthen women lawyers to aspire higher.
WOZA awards recognises male champions.”

Sure, there are countries that recognize leaders in law. Being male and female leaders in law. But there are very few countries in the world that actually award women’s achievements in law. Only. And specifically. 

South Africa and the African continent are new to the stand-alone for women only awards event. 

But that has changed.

Step in the WOZA Women in Law Awards.

The WOZA Awards

The WOZA Awards was founded in 2018 to honour and celebrate women lawyers for their outstanding dedication, achievements, and contribution to the legal profession, whether it be services, legal education, human rights, or the pro bono sector.

In fact, WOZA’s website goes on to say that – 

“There is a need to celebrate the successes of women in the profession and to close the gender gap in order to create greater gender parity and recognition.

It is against this background that the need for an awards programme just for women was born.”

And we couldn’t agree more.

This year the awards ceremony was held on 30 July 2022 at Emperors Palace – despite fears of COVID, monkeypoxseasonal flu and newly developed agoraphobia – over 300 legal professionals attended the awards.

There were photographs, traditional dancers, an opening address by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, delicious food and drink aplenty. 

There were cheers from the crowd as women received their awards. Every single woman cheering and congratulating each winner as they went up to receive their award and again congratulations continued as each winner returned to their seats. There were smiles, laughter and convivial chatter. 

Women genuinely supporting other women. Men supporting women too. 

Sitting amongst the crowd you felt like you were part of something great – celebrating the achievements of women. It felt like you, despite not being nominated (or necessarily a legal practitioner yourself) had won something too. 

And that is, perhaps, not far from the truth. Because if people can come together in general celebration of each other’s achievements – isn’t that a win? 

We think so.

AJS as one of the proud sponsors of the WOZA Women in Law Awards was happily in attendance. 

We sat amongst the many amazing women nominated in their various categories. We sat with our clients, our colleagues, and our friends in true celebratory style – proud of many of our clients who took home their well-deserved awards. 

We would like to specifically mention and wish a hearty congratulations to our clients –

Ø  Bridget Majola of CMS South Africa for winning Best in Finance, Debt Relief & Restructuring;

Ø  Anisa Govender of law firm Livingston Leandy for winning the award for Best in Maritime, Shipping & Environmental;

Ø  Nicolene Schoeman-Louw of Schoeman Law Inc who was the First Runner-up in the category for the Best in Commercial Law; 

Ø  Joint winners Schoeman Law Inc and Livingston Leandy for winning the award for Best South African Law Firm with Six Female Lawyers or More, and

Ø  CMS South Africa for winning African Law Firm of the Year.

We would also like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Advocate Soraya Hassim SC who not only took home the award for Best in Corporate (practicing), Best in Leadership and Mentorship but the Pinnacle Award as well. A truly remarkable woman who is a beacon for all those who want to look up to an exemplary member of the judiciary. 

The WOZA Women in Law Awards have humbled us. We witnessed women who excel every single day both professionally and personally. We were inspired by the achievements of each woman despite the difficulties and inequalities women experience on a daily basis. We were amazed at the humility each winner displayed and the congeniality each person attending the event expressed towards one another. 

We can say, with all honesty, that we have been completely and utterly flawed, motivated, inspired and truly impressed by the achievements of all the nominees and award winners

As Advocate Soraya Hassim said, “When we rise, we shine.” Each and every woman (and man) in attendance at the WOZA Awards, shone. 

It was a truly incredible and unforgettable sight!

Ladies in above image:
Left to Right – Tshepo Mochabang (AJS), Tammeron de Wit (Cox Yeats Attorneys), Chantelle Maritz (AJS), Alicia Koch (The Legal Belletrist & writer for AJS), Anneke Blignaut (LGR Incorporated), Lazell Sprague (AJS)

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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