A report by the University of Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Foundation for Human Rights has exposed the abuse that black female lawyers undergo in the law firms that employ them.
Embarrassingly, the findings say some law firms use black female lawyers to attract clients, including government entities and Eskom. And, once a deal is concluded, they are not included in the team tasked to handle the work.
Further, the report says, apparently, some clients are not confident in the competence of black and female practitioners. The intelligence, talent or prior experience of black lawyers is questioned.
The report has found that black lawyers feel that they are viewed as “less equal or worthy” while their white counterparts are always presumed to be competent and capable. Also, black and female lawyers are considered to be competent in doing only certain types of law, notably commercial law.
With the high level of the prejudice that the Wits report has exposed it is not surprising that influential black women are only a minority in legal firms. According to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa’s April 2014 statistics, they made up 4.5% of the country’s 2571 advocates, and only four of them were senior counsel.