The Legal Practice Council has announced that you no longer need a driver’s licence to get into law as a candidate attorney
For years now law school graduates who didn’t have cars found themselves stopped at a peculiar roadblock. Aside from excellent grades, many firms required prospective graduates to have a valid driver’s licence and in some instances even have their own car. Given the socio-economic realities of this country, having a requirement like that generally ends up excluding large sections of the population who may be no less capable but lack the financial means. Earlier this week, the Legal Practice Council resolved to amend the rules that allowed firms to have requirements like this stating that the requirements were anti-transformative. To get a better sense of what this means for your average candidate attorney or anyone approaching that stage in their career, we spoke to Family Law expert and Adaptive Attorney, Jennifer Stoler.
YOLISA MKELE (YM): Can you explain what this amendment means to the average prospective graduate/candidate attorneys (CA)?
JENNIFER STOLER (JS): During my time as a legal practitioner, a driver’s licence and car have always been a requirement for a CA. Some of your main duties include “serving and filing” legal documents, which involves driving to various courts and clients.
It is no secret that plenty, and if not most, of our legal graduates in SA may not have this luxury and having this as a requirement not only prejudices them, but actually takes them out of the job market totally. I believe that law firms need to step up and provide vehicles for this, or hire drivers for this purpose.
YM: How does this impact candidates going forward?
JS: I think the impact will be felt more by law firms, rather than the candidates. In this regard, law firms that require prospective CAs to have a driving licence or car will be guilty of misconduct and they have also been barred from asking prospective candidates in interviews if they have a licence or car.
CA’s generally do a lot of driving to issue, serve and file documents, if they do not have a licence or a vehicle, law firms will then obviously have to hire messengers or drivers. Alternatively they may have to provide vehicles for the CA. Obviously candidates will be impacted in the space, but I think the impact will be more for the law firms as now they cannot enquire or ask about this before hiring.
It will help level the playing field for students from less privileged backgrounds.
YM: Do you have an idea why rules like this were in place? How were they rationalised to you?
JS: They have been in place for a while. CAs generally are at the bottom of the heirachy, sorry but it is true. As a CA, you do everything — from driving, to printing, to issuing, serving and filing documents at courts. Obviously at the medium to larger law firms you drive less, but having experienced being at a small law firm and moving to a medium-sized one in my articles, I can say that at the small firm I drove about 150km a day and when I moved to the medium law firm, I probably drove half of that in a month.
CAs are not paid well, as your articles are akin to an internship, so law firms would try to squeeze out everything out of a CA, hence requiring them to have a car and licence. That is the only rational explanation I can come to without drawing lines of racism in the sand, however, there were comments that this was aimed to exclude candidates that came from disadvantaged backgrounds, I personally cannot comment on that.
YM: What are some of the other rules the Legal Practice Council (LPC) has changed?
JS: The LPC’s notice published in the government gazette last Friday was aimed specifically towards the car and licence requirements, however, the issue of some law firms requiring that CAs are fluent in English and Afrikaans was raised and condemned.
YM: How do you think that law firms are likely to react to this ruling in a general sense?
JS: Well, practically they will not place these in their adverts or directly ask CAs if they have a licence or vehicle, but let’s get real: if they wanted to find out, they could — and easily — just exclude that CA from the interviewing and hiring process anyway.
I do think it is a strong message and step in the right direction to prevent anti-transformative, discriminatory and exclusionary behaviour in the legal space, and it allows for CAs to be empowered. But do I think law firms will change their ways, if they are set in them, well… no.
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