Monday, 16 July 2018

How should attorneys dress for their Magistrate's Court appearances?

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, 15 July 2018

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

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, 8 July 2018

You must provide your employees with written terms of employment, by law, in South Africa

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, 7 July 2018

Advice for 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.

Sunday, 17 June 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.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

What makes an attorney successful, or at least capable of surviving the profession?

What makes an attorney successful, or at least capable of surviving the profession?

I have written on this from several perspectives.

Success can be found in the attorney's profession, but you will fight for your dinner every night. That is a big part of what we do. We have to be capable of dealing well with the unknown and handling stress.

I could not see myself doing anything else, but unless you have the killer instinct and the ability to harm in a lawful and self controlled manner, don't become an attorney. Rather then be a legal advisor or countless other jobs.

Lawyers, who survive the profession, mostly, are cautious financially, and build what they have up over time. A lot of lawyers are broke or financially distressed, some have to close up shop, despite early successes. Those who survive are careful which matters they take, and who they permit to be their client. It is a difficult career to succeed in, and many don't. It is vital to be discerning, and create processes and capacity before taking on too many clients if you start your own firm. Firms which grow too fast often don't last.

Those who do succeed have good and bad times, as the economy rises and falls. They learn to save for bad months, and not overspend on good ones.

They take deposits, and measure how much spending and work they do for a matter before paid for work already done, and don't keep working without regular payments towards what is owed, or to be owed.

When it comes to getting a job as a candidate attorney or your first job as an attorney, academic marks and achievements mean next to nothing to 90% of firms out there. They often only care if you passed, are humble, capable and have good English communication, spelling, and grammar, and good manners. Good work experience as a candidate attorney, also matters, for your first job as an attorney.

Being polite, emotionally intelligent, thorough, and ready to find answers, instead of assuming them, are vital traits for many.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Debt collectors cannot just do as they please in South Africa

Debt collectors cannot just do as they please in South Africa

Debt collectors are bound by the Debt Collectors Act (Act No 114 of 1998). They thus have to adhere to the code of conduct set out in the regulations thereto, and to the act itself.

In terms of s 1 of the act:


'“debt collector” means—

(a)

a person, other than an attorney or his or her employee or a party to a factoring arrangement, who for reward collects debts owed to another on the latter’s behalf;

(b)

a person who, other than a party to a factoring arrangement, in the course of his or her regular business, for reward takes over debts referred to in paragraph (a) in order to collect them for his or her own benefit;

(c)

a person who, as an agent or employee of a person referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) or as an agent of an attorney, collects the debts on behalf of such person or attorney, excluding an employee whose duties are purely administrative, clerical or otherwise subservient to the actual occupation of debt collector;'


In terms of s 14 of the act:


'Code of conduct.—(1) (a) The Council shall, subject to the approval of the Minister, adopt a code of conduct for debt collectors and shall publish such code in the Gazette.

(b) The code of conduct, and any amendment thereof, shall be submitted to Parliament within 14 days after publication thereof in the Gazette.

(2) The Council may, subject to the approval of the Minister, amend or repeal the code of conduct adopted by it: Provided that such code shall not be wholly repealed by it, unless it is simultaneously replaced by a new code of conduct for debt collectors so adopted and approved by the Minister and, provided further, that the Council shall publish any such amendment, repeal or replacement in the Gazette.

(3) The code of conduct drawn up or adopted by the Council and published in the Gazette shall be binding on all debt collectors.'



What follows is an extract from the code of conduct, and an extract from the act, both setting out some of what debt collectors can and cannot do:


'(2) A debt collector, in the process of collecting a debt, shall have due regard for the person, the property and the civil rights of a debtor, and shall ensure that any action taken against a debtor does not humiliate, threaten or cause distress to such a debtor.

(3) In collecting or attempting to collect a claim a debt collector shall not—

(a)

collect or attempt to collect for a creditor money in excess of the amount owing by the debtor to the creditor, except for interest and costs legally recoverable;

(b)

misrepresent the true nature of his or her business, or threaten to institute legal proceedings, whether civil or criminal, if there is no intention to carry out such a threat;

(c)

utilise a communication which simulates legal or judicial processes;

(d)

threaten violence or harm to the debtor, those related to him, or his or her or their property;

(e)

use obscene, defamatory or threatening language when communicating with a debtor or persons related to him;

( f )

communicate with a debtor when his or her legal adviser has notified the debt collector in writing to communicate with the legal adviser;

(g)

abuse or intimidate a debtor in any manner, whether orally or in writing, in order to induce a person to pay a debt;

(h)

call on a debtor, or park in front of a debtor’s residential or work address in a vehicle which is conspicuously marked in any way that discloses its purposes and whereby the debtor may be embarrassed;

(i)

make telephone or personal calls or send written communications which may constitute excessive harassment of the debtor, his or her spouse or any member of his or her family;

( j)

make telephone calls or personal calls for the purpose of demanding payment of a debt on a Sunday or between the hours of nine o’clock in the evening and six o’clock in the morning on any other day, unless the debtor or his or her spouse requests the debt collector to do so;

(k)

engage in any other excessive conduct which can reasonably be expected to harass the debtor or persons related to him or her;

(l)

disclose or threaten to disclose information which could adversely affect the debtor’s reputation for creditworthiness, knowing or having reason to suspect that the information is false;

(m)

initiate or threaten to initiate communication with the debtor’s employer prior to obtaining final judgment against the debtor, in order to exert pressure on the debtor, although this does not prohibit a debt collector from communicating with the debtor’s employer solely to verify employment status or earnings or where an employer has an established debt counselling service or procedure;

(n)

communicate with an employer, acquaintance, friend, relative or neighbour of the debtor, unless such a person stands surety for the debtor, or unless it is to obtain the debtor’s address or telephone number;

(o)

disclose or threaten to disclose to a person other than the debtor or his or her spouse if also liable, information concerning the existence of the claim, except through proper legal proceedings, although this does not prohibit lawful disclosure to another person of such information, provided the debtor is notified of such communication;

(p)

disclose or threaten to disclose information of a debt which with valid reason is disputed by the debtor, without disclosing the fact that the debtor disputes such debt;

(q)

give to any person, by implication, inference or express statement, any false or misleading information that may be detrimental to a debtor, his or her spouse or any member of his or her family;

(r)

give, or threaten to give, by implication, inference or statement, to the person who employs a debtor, his or her spouse or any member of his or her family, information that may adversely affect the employment or employment opportunities of the debtor, his or her spouse or any member of his or her family;

(s)

make a demand for payment of an account by telephone, personal call or in writing, without indicating the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owing, the balance of the account and the identity and the basis of the claim of the person making the demand, or

(t)

commence or continue an action for the recovery of a debt in the name of the debt collector as plaintiff, unless such debt has been ceded to the debt collector in good faith.' (GNR.663 of 16 May 2003: Council for Debt Collectors issued in terms of s 14 the DEBT COLLECTORS ACT NO. 114 OF 1998)



'15. Improper conduct by debt collectors.—(1) A debt collector may be found guilty by the Council of improper conduct if he or she, or a person for whom he or she is vicariously liable—

(a)

uses force or threatens to use force against a debtor or any other person with whom the debtor has family ties or a familial or personal relationship;

(b)

acts towards a debtor or any other person with whom the debtor has family ties or a familial or personal relationship, in an excessive or intimidating manner;

(c)

makes use of fraudulent or misleading representations, including—

(i)

the simulation of legal procedures;

(ii)

the use of simulated official or legal documents;

(iii)

representation as a police officer, sheriff, officer of court or any similar person; or

(iv)

the making of unjustified threats to enforce rights;

(d)

is convicted of an offence of which violence, dishonesty, extortion or intimidation is an element;

(e)

spreads or threatens to spread false information concerning the creditworthiness of a debtor;

( f )

contravenes or fails to comply with a provision of the code of conduct contemplated in section 14;

(g)

contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this Act; or

(h)

behaves or acts in any manner amounting to conduct, other than that mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), ( f ) or (g), which is improper in terms of a regulation.

(2) The Council may in the prescribed manner investigate an allegation of improper conduct by a debt collector submitted to it in the prescribed manner or have it investigated in the prescribed manner by a committee of members of the Council or by a person or persons nominated by it: Provided that a debt collector whose conduct is being investigated shall be afforded the opportunity, either in person or through a legal representative, of refuting any allegations made against him or her.

(3) If the Council finds a debt collector guilty of improper conduct, the Council may—

(a)

withdraw his or her registration as a debt collector;

(b)

suspend his or her registration for a specified period or pending the fulfilment of a condition or conditions;

(c)

impose on him or her a fine not exceeding the prescribed amount, which fine shall be payable to the Council;

(d)

reprimand him or her;

(e)

recover from him or her the costs incurred by the Council in connection with the investigation;

( f )

order him or her to reimburse any person who the Council is satisfied has been prejudiced by the conduct of such debt collector and to furnish the Council within a specified period with proof of such reimbursement; or

(g)

combine any of the penalties under this subsection.

(4) Any penalty imposed on a debt collector in terms of subsection (3) (a), (b), (c) or (g) may be suspended, either wholly or partially, by the Council on such conditions as the Council deems appropriate.

(5) The Council may in its discretion assign any of the powers conferred on it under this section, except a power referred to in subsection (3) (a), to a committee nominated by it in terms of subsection (2), and may rescind or vary a decision of such a committee.' (S 15 of the DEBT COLLECTORS ACT NO. 114 OF 1998)


Nothing herein contained should be relied upon as legal advice. For that, please see your attorney for a consultation.

Marc Evan Aupiais

Marc Evan Aupiais

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