Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How to set up a law firm ...

How to open a law firm.

The first step is to get a letter from your local law society stating that you are an attorney. The bank will require the letter when opening your attorney's trust and business accounts. Some banks still require also opening a third account to deduct your trust fees, but with the major banks, those two accounts are enough. The bank will likely require a R500.00 deposit into your business account, and a later R 100.00 deposit into your trust account when you have sent them your Fidelity Fund certificate and they have unfrozen it. The deposits are not bank fees, and remain your money. Make sure you are emailed statements from both accounts on at least a monthly basis. Also, be sure to set up online banking, as you will need this for your trust account, unless you like cheques very much. The law society may want proof of your accounts being opened, the bank employee can get you that while you are sitting there, opening the account.

You should at this point be opening a trust cashbook, journals and ledgers and a business cashbook, journals and ledgers, either in physical form or on your computer, as you will need to record all your transactions as an attorney, by the end of the month after each month's transactions occur. The cheapest solution is to do your books in Microsoft Excel, if you have it on your computer. Many hire bookkeepers or use specialised software.

Go through to the law society, with the forms for opening a new firm filled out, including the application on paper for a fidelity fund certificate. Also fill out the application for your membership card, and bring your Identity Document and two passport sized photographs of you with. Take these forms and such to the records department. If you don't have the forms to fill out, request them, and also be sure to request information as to the amount that payment will be from the same department.

You will be expected to pay your ordinary membership fees if you are not yet a practising member of the law society, and your registration fees for your firm.

Once you have registered, the next step is to log onto the website of the Financial Intelligence Centre, and register as an accounting organisation with them. You should at this point begin planning for your processes for complying with FICA, wherein you need to request certain documents from clients before you first serve them, such as proof of address, proof of identity, and proof of their tax number. FICA now also requires you to establish if a client is a person of national interest, and the corporate and ownership structure of corporate clients and the like. A good guide may be to download your local bank's FICA compliance document and use it as a loose guide on how you yourself will comply.

Once you have received your Fidelity Fund certificate, you are allowed to set up practice. Make sure you are not sharing offices with any non-attorney, that your law practice is clearly marked and demarcated, and that your client will be able to brief you privately.

Your invoices and receipts to clients will need to comply with the Consumer Protection Act and the rules governing attorneys. You should create an attorney client-contract for your clients to sign, it should at a minimum contain the required details set out in the Legal Practice Act. It is a good idea to insist on a top-up method, where you only work when there is money in your trust account, and where money is always deposited well in advance of any emergencies in the matter. Also, be sure to know how to tell if a matter has prescribed, or is about to, so you don't get into very avoidable trouble for negligence.

It is a good idea to get yourself a filing system for when your clients bring documents for their matters, and often a good idea to keep digital copies, which you should safely back up, as many attorneys have found themselves up a creek without a paddle, upon their computer being damaged or stolen. You should also consider creating a hard copy and digital record of your clients' personal contact details, and for alternative contacts if you can't reach your client in some emergency.

If you use computers in your practice, make sure you have a good and regularly updated anti-virus program installed. If you use Android for your phone, also get a good anti-virus for your phone. Also be sure you have some sort of backup of important emails. Printing them and printing them to PDF can be useful. When you save files, put the date first, to help you organise them, and consider having separate folders on your computer for each matter, and separating research files and precedents from the matters they are for, so that they can be of future use.

It is advisable to record all your phone calls in terms of s 4 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act. That way, you have proof of what conversations entailed. Store these recordings securely. Also, consider encrypting your phone and computer hard drives. A good written record of all phone calls and what they entailed is also important and good notes of consultations are essential. Also, consider recording consultations with a dictaphone. You often miss details in the moment, that become clear on a recording.

Have some standard questions you ask your clients, and always get their basic identifying and contact information.

It is also important to fill out the survey of the AIIF each year. You want to be covered if you act negligently.

Once you have been in practice for four months, you will need to have your trust account and trust accounting books audited by an auditor accredited by the law society. Make sure you contact one in advance, so you know what they charge and can save up. The audit needs to be delivered to the law society along with your annual statement, within your first six months of practice.

You will need to sign up for Practice Management Training (PMT), and pass it, so as to make sure you receive your next Fidelity Fund certificate. Remember, without a Fidelity Fund certificate, you cannot practise.

It is also important that you design your letterhead in terms of the rules governing the profession. Also important, but less so than the letterhead, is to get your stamps made. You need a firm stamp, a received without prejudice stamp, and will do well to have certified copy and commissioner of oaths stamps.

If you are new to law, or a long practising attorney, friends and contacts are important. Be sure to ask for guidance from colleagues who know the answers when you are new to something. Also, try to create a good law library. Books like Amlers and collections like LAWSA and Butterworths Forms and Precedents can save you hours of research, and can be accessed online for a reasonable monthly fee as part of a LegalSelect package. Stay up to date on legal news and regulations, and be sure you are writing and reading regardless of how many clients you have.

Your office is your primary tool as an attorney, other than your own transport, and it is important to have a decent printer that works, some form of computer, a desk, and chairs for you and clients. I also believe that tea and coffee, and some rusks or biscuits can do a world of good for getting clients to open up. Also make sure you have an accurate way to record your time spent on a client's matter.

Writing and speaking are essential tools for lawyers. Consider keeping a blog, and write how you would write a legal letter in all your social communications. Get into the habit. Speak politely with everyone, also, get out of habits like using swear words. You don't want to accidentally use one in court. Practise the art of conversation, and of debate, and record yourself speaking. Consider doing mock trial with attorneys in your area, get your confidence up. Attend trials and see how other attorneys do them, especially unopposed and opposed motion court, divorces, and urgent court. Also, see how more experienced colleagues draft, but don't use their drafting as a precedent, use it as a guide. Remember, good legal drafting is about accurately setting out the positions of the parties, whether in pleadings, or contract, or a legal letter. Also, remember, you are a creature of instruction, your client's problem is theirs, not yours. You merely represent them.

Beyond that all, remember law is a business, and take joy in your work. Working from home can be difficult, and a routine such as walking to your office each morning can be helpful. Instead of setting goals to do work, set goals for work opportunities. Say: I will open client X's file, and look at it. Suddenly, you will find you are working away on it. Make sure you have savings for six months before opening a firm, and put a good amount of whatever you earn into savings. Don't take on too much work at once, or too many too-big clients to start. Slowly does it. Set up the right processes and procedures before even opening your door. Too many law firms have grown too fast and collapsed, others, too, have got a ton of work immediately, only to see work dry up in a bad economy without savings to get them by.

To those who go on this journey of entrepreneurship, we your fellow small to medium sized enterprises welcome you.

Nothing herein should be relied upon as legal advice. For that, make an appointment with your attorney and fully brief them of all the nuances of your matter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The problem with the IPSOS poll #DA #EFF #ANC

The problem with the IPSOS poll.

IPSOS interviewed a few thousand randomly selected South Africans in their homes in late April, May and early June. They found just 13% of South Africans supported the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and that it would lose its majority in its stronghold of the Western Cape. They also found the African National Congress (ANC) polling at about 60% with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) polling at just 7%.

The poll has been criticised for a number of reasons, including the obscurity around results. Also, the idea that the ANC is polling better than last year, when people are losing their jobs, petrol and food are more expensive, and people are poorer, as the economy has also shrunk.

Firstly, the poll took place in the first few months of Ramaphosa's presidency, bearing in mind he was put in charge after removing previous President Jacob Zuma in a palace coup in February. Ramaphoria, which media deemed to be investor sentiment, when it wasn't, is perhaps better defined as the positive coverage of Ramaphosa in South African media. Investors have been scared away from South Africa.

As I have reported on before, South African media, with a bit of help from Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) ownership quotas, and new wealth from tenderpreneurs, are almost solely owned by ANC allies, in South Africa, never mind the tightly controlled SABC state broadcaster, which broadcasts from radio and television aerials across the country.

Perhaps these figures are accurate. The DA has been abandoning its principles in favour of light versions of ANC policies, and Marxist beliefs. It has certainly lost a lot of support, perhaps even ten percent of the support it had.

The thing is, the IPSOS poll interviewed people as young as 15, who won't be voting, and did not just interview registered voters, or even people likely to vote.

The most accurate polling is robocalling: people, when dealing with a machine, are more honest. Would you let IPSOS' local pollsters into your home to chat politics? Was it during working hours? I don't know many people who would allow strangers into their home to interview them on politics. I certainly wouldn't, given the danger of crime in South Africa.

I would say, then, that people who are less worried about crime would be those involved, and if the pollsters were demographically representative of South Africa, given the very real pressure on people to vote ANC, people polled may have felt worried for their life or career if they said they were voting for someone else. Notably, even most ANC voters said they believed there was a leadership crisis in the ANC.

As the ANC continues to push forward with populist policies which have already caused mass job losses and poverty, and others which should be expected to add yet more misery to the economy, the average person on the street will continue to suffer. Most have only woken up to this from June, going forward, and it is from then that headlines turned. It was in June that we all were greeted with the news that the economy had shrunk and was in its worst place in 9 years. The IPSOS poll doesn't account for that and other realizations of misery under Ramaphosa's weak leadership.

Going forward, we can likely expect very different polling results, as other pollsters use more accurate polling techniques which don't rely on access to people's sanctum, their home, and don't pollute the results with pollsters who have human faces which give human expressions, and who those polled may fear will tell others of their voting intentions.

Monday, July 16, 2018

How should attorneys dress to be seen by the Magistrate's Court?

How should attorneys dress for appearances in the Magistrate's Court?

Attorneys must wear their robe when appearing to represent others in Magistrate's court. I always wear a black or navy suit below it (with two black or navy buttons capable of closing the suit jacket, and lapels, and no waistcoat), mostly a light coloured long sleeved shirt, often white, and no crazy ties or crazy socks. I wear a formal tie, often blue or black. Some courts even take offence to a red tie. Formal and respectful tends to be the idea.

As it is not their court, which High Court is, advocates will often not robe in Magistrate's Court. Attorneys, however, should. The only reason not to robe in Magistrate's Court is if counsel or another attorney is appearing for your client on your instructions, or if you are not appearing on behalf of anyone.

For what to wear below their robe, attorneys can gain a lot from staying close to the rules governing counsel and attorneys with right of appearance in the High Court, as such will dress in their High Court appearances.

An example of this can be found in the prescriptions for dress by counsel in the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court. The dress code for junior counsel is in particular a good guide.

However, for Magistrate's Court, attorneys should rather wear a tie, and not a jabot or bib.

Below, a quote of the said rules, from the said Gauteng Local Division of the High Court's Practice Manual.

CHAPTER 4 COUNSEL'S DRESS

1.

Counsel is required to be properly dressed. If not properly dressed they run the risk of not being "seen" by the presiding judge.

Proper dress for junior counsel comprises:
2.1 A black stuff gown.
2.2 A plain black long sleeved jacket (and not a waistcoat) which has both a collar and lapels. The jacket must have, for closing, one or two buttons at the waist. The buttons must be black.
2.3 A white shirt or blouse closed at the neck.
2.4 A white lace jabot or white bands.
2.5 Dark pants or skirt.
2.6 Black or dark closed shoes.

Proper dress for senior counsel comprises:
3.1 A Senior Counsel's (silk) gown.
3.2 A Senior Counsel's (silk) waistcoat.
3.3 A white shirt or blouse closed at the neck.
3.4 A white lace jabot or white bands.
3.5 Dark pants or skirt.
3.6 Black or dark closed shoes.

Counsel must ensure when appearing in court that their waistcoats or jackets, as the case may be, are
buttoned up.

It is not proper for counsel to enter court not fully robed as set out in paragraph 2 to 4 supra. It follows
that counsel should not robe in court.

Conspicuous ornaments or jewellery should not be worn.

On attending a judge's chambers during the hearing of a case, counsel must be dressed as set out in
paragraphs 2 to 4 above. On attending a judge's chambers otherwise than during the hearing of
case, counsel must be properly dressed as follows:
7.1 A white shirt with a tie (men) or a white blouse closed at the neck (women);
7.2 Dark pants or dark skirt;
7.3 A long sleeved dark jacket; and
7.4 Black or dark closed shoes.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Why do law firms often require applicants, for entry level positions, who are fluent in Afrikaans? An answer ...

Why do law firms often require applicants, for entry level positions, who are fluent in Afrikaans? An answer I can give from my own experience of the industry.

Business is won or lost on the margins, and law is one of the most competitive businesses there is. Lawyers do all they can to give their clients the best experience possible, from having comfy chairs, to offering expensive tea and coffee, to trying to communicate with clients in their own language.

Afrikaans is one of the most spoken languages in South Africa, and the vast majority of speakers are non-white. At one firm I worked at, almost all of my instructions were in Afrikaans. I have also had a matter where the prosecution handed me a document dealing with my client's case, in Afrikaans, and given the masses of case law written in Afrikaans, including one case which was vital to a matter I dealt with, it is still important.

Law is a business. While less vital for case law purposes, languages like Zulu or even Portuguese are often required by firms, because their clients are more comfortable speaking these languages. You make money in law by serving your clients so they recommend you to others and come back with other problems. Speaking their language is a massive advantage.

You might even find that a lot of the firms requiring someone fluent in Afrikaans have a purely English speaking staff, and have missed out on a lot of business as a result, and are trying to get into a new market. You might find the same with those asking for Zulu.

The only reason firms tend to set language requirements is because it means they can make more money.

If you can't meet the standards, make sure you provide something of equal or greater value. E.g. an advanced research ability or a good base of potential clients.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

In South Africa, certain terms of an employment contract must be reduced to writing by the employer

The basics that must be in any contract of employment are set out in s 29 of the BCEA:

'29. Written particulars of employment.—(1) An employer must supply an employee, when the employee commences employment, with the following particulars in writing—

(a)

the full name and address of the employer;

(b)

the name and occupation of the employee, or a brief description of the work for which the employee is employed;

(c)

the place of work, and, where the employee is required or permitted to work at various places, an indication of this;

(d)

the date on which the employment began;

(e)

the employee’s ordinary hours of work and days of work;

( f )

the employee’s wage or the rate and method of calculating wages;

(g)

the rate of pay for overtime work;

(h)

any other cash payments that the employee is entitled to;

(i)

any payment in kind that the employee is entitled to and the value of the payment in kind;

( j)

how frequently remuneration will be paid;

(k)

any deductions to be made from the employee’s remuneration;

(l)

the leave to which the employee is entitled;

(m)

the period of notice required to terminate employment, or if employment is for a specified period, the date when employment is to terminate;

(n)

a description of any council or sectoral determination which covers the employer’s business;

(o)

any period of employment with a previous employer that counts towards the employee’s period of employment;

(p)

a list of any other documents that form part of the contract of employment, indicating a place that is reasonably accessible to the employee where a copy of each may be obtained.

(2) When any matter listed in subsection (1) changes—

(a)

the written particulars must be revised to reflect the change; and

(b)

the employee must be supplied with a copy of the document reflecting the change.

(3) If an employee is not able to understand the written particulars, the employer must ensure that they are explained to the employee in a language and in a manner that the employee understands.

(4) Written particulars in terms of this section must be kept by the employer for a period of three years after the termination of employment.'

Obviously, some of these will be governed by statutory minimums or requirements, mostly found in the same Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

The rest of an employment contract usually just spells out common law and statutory rights, and unique conditions.

Nothing herein should be relied upon as legal advice. For that, make an appointment with your attorney and fully brief them of the facts and nuances of your matter.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sending out your Curriculum Vitae

A lot of people have given their advice after reading CVs. I am not offering any jobs right now, but I still receive plenty of CVs in my inbox and have discussed this sort of thing with other business owners in the past. So, here it goes.

Some CV advice:

1) Use personal pronouns, commas and full stops. Anyone who is annoyed by them is a) not a lawyer and not in a profession where good written communication is essential and b) is probably able to speed read in any case.
2) Ditch the precedent. List the information about your past experience and jobs that you'd list on LinkedIn. Don't follow some precedent that everyone hands around. Show you know how to construct a formal document.
3) Use a list/table format to supply what is sometimes considered 'superfluous' information, such as your citizenship, sex, phone number, email, website, driver's licence and car ownership status.
4) People want to know you are a complete human person. They want to know your interests, hobbies and what makes you tick. Just, don't list social justice warrior stuff on your CV. People know it is fake or problematic and you will be put on the no pile for that.
5) Don't play the victim card, or the rose from obscurity to greatness card. People want to know you are persevering, but they want someone who strives to better themselves, not someone who blames the world and holds onto past traumas. Get a job by impressing, not by trying to get sympathy.
6) Have a standard letter of motivation. Like everything in your CV it must show a perfect command of English vocabulary, spelling and grammar. Use simpler and smaller words, unless a larger word is ideal. Using a big word when unnecessary is bad communication.
7) Use concise sentences: short but not so short so as to lose the effect.
8) Market yourself. Make sure they want to hire you.
9) List past work experience, even if not in the field. Don't say you were fired or retrenched from a job, which is something I have read in a CV before: only mention retrenchment if it was your last job.
10) Don't lambaste past employers in your CV, or overplay the work you did there.
11) Show an understanding of other people, a willingness to learn and defer, and indicate your ability to show right judgement.
12) Show why you are the best candidate, convince, don't tell.
13) Put at least a month's work into perfecting your CV.
14) Use headers and footers.
15) Save your CV as a PDF when sending.
16) Have a message in the email you send, and mention the sort of job you are seeking. Mention the job you are applying for in the heading of the email, also.
17) Show you are polite and have good communications skills.
18) Make the back end of your CV robust. Place detail of your skills and experience behind everything else, in detail.
19) Include two letters of recommendation which show your good character, scan them in and append them to the end of your PDF. Have a different two character references people can call. They should be people who know you and your character, not past employers.
20) List every course you did and passed in varsity, but don't list the marks you got, say a copy of your transcript is available on request.
21) Don't include scans of your ID, transcripts and degrees in the email or bundle. Say they are available on request.
22) Come across as a competent but real human being.
23) Use the email to indicate you have some knowledge of the firm, if you want to customise it, but have a standard letter of motivation.
24) Say Dear Sir/Madam if you don't know exactly who you want a job from. Try to email a partner or director and avoid the HR department and the secretary. Go straight to the source. Have a paragraph in your email asking them to forward it to the appropriate person if they are not the desk dealing with human resources.
25) Check how you portray yourself on social media and when interacting with people in or adjacent to the profession you want to be part of, make sure you come across well in both instances. People often ask colleages for advice on hirings.
26) You are not worth what you have put into yourself, you are worth what someone is willing to pay for your services. Impress them enough that they want to pay you more so someone else doesn't scoop you up.
27) Dress more formally than the person who will be interviewing you, if you get an interview.
28) See how long secretarial staff have been there, and check LinkedIn for past employees who worked there. See how past employees describe their time there, and how long they worked there. Consider contacting them and finding out more about the firm you might be joining.
29) It will take hundreds of CVs sent out for you to find the right employer, and most won't have advertised a job, some will even create a job to hire you if you are impressive enough. Don't just send to a few employers.
30) Have an impressive and professional email address and conduct yourself with the professionalism expected of people doing the job you want to do.
31) Realise that a CV is like a profile on a dating website, and an interview is like a blind date: you are not everyone's right fit for the job, it is about figuring out if you and the employer are a good fit.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

How to make legal services more affordable, and feed the masses of unemployed law graduates ...

How to actually open up the legal profession, and legal services.

I often hear the same suggestions, which just don't work, when it comes to making legal services more accessible. We are told we need more government intervention, more tariffs and rules.

I have something radical to suggest: less rules.

If you want more people to do something with their LLB, give them practical trade training, and let them practise straight away. Get rid of articles of clerkship. Americans do well without it, and the market is much better at establishing standards than statutes and laws are.

Get rid of comparitive advertising rules, in fact, let attorneys advertise their prices, let them do discounts, and vouchers. Let them pay marketing agencies to get them clients. Let them share offices and resources and fees. Let them have lay shareholders, even. These things have not destroyed the medical profession. If anything, medical services are more available as a result.

In any market, heavy regulations favour the status quo and push out new competition. In a place like America, anyone can get legal services.

Imagine if the so called street advocates and attorneys who struggle, instead of competing with everyone else for the same upper middle class business, were allowed to charge say R 20.00 an hour instead of the fees they have to charge. Many could survive in law, on that even. It would open legal services up. Township barbers in no way reduce the quality of service found in a top hair salon. What they do is give people hair care at a price they are prepared to pay for the quality and service they want.

What would happen if we got rid of undercharging prohibitions? People who want the current levels of service would still pay for them. And those in up market suburbs or near big businesses would still have the same clients. However, just as private schools are offering very cheap fees for the poor, lawyers could then compete with legal aid. Small debts, like R 5000.00 would also become more affordable to litigate, opening up legal services for smaller debts.

I would love to see a world where free market capitalism, and all its advertising and voluntary fee arrangements and market regulations could bring legal services to everyone, and allow the other 75% to make money from the legal degree they studied. Don't have own transport? No trouble if you work for yourself and are prepared to take a taxi or bus to court. Don't speak Tswana or Afrikaans? That is fine if you are working for yourself and your clients speak Zulu or English.

Currently, we are heading in the exact opposite direction. It does not have to be that way. So much of the poverty we see among LLB graduates is the direct result of law and regulations. Let's educate the powers that be to let the market regulate our services. It can work.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Signing a power of attorney

The word attorney, in the context of a power of attorney, means agent.

The Attorneys Act has changed its meaning in general use to the meaning of attorney at law, a person who can represent others at court. In fact, power of attorney almost always appoints an attorney at fact, someone to run business and financial affairs.

It can be drafted without an attorney, on itself from scratch or based on precedents, and precedents can be bought at most Waltons or at CNAs, but caution must be had in signing one. They can become irrevocable if drafted in certain ways, and some are best registered at the deeds office.

Anything giving that much power should preferably be drafted by an attorney. Certain institutions demand that any power of attorney over their contracts be signed in the presence of their chosen employees, to avoid fraud.

Also, if the person granting the mandate is losing their faculties, curatorship or appointment of someone to manage their affairs in terms of the Mental Health Care Act is advisable, the moment they have lost the mental ability to properly comprehend and manage their own financial, proprietary, and patrimonial affairs, as any agent has only the capacity of the person who has mandated them. The moment they lose that capacity, the power of attorney ceases to have legal effect.

Nothing said herein should be relied upon as legal advice. For legal advice, make an appointment with your attorney, consult fully with them and brief them on your matter in all its inherent nuances and details.

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