Synergistic forces were evident in more ways than imagined when I found myself at a recent summit entitled ‘ Finding New Ways for Women to Lead in Law’, a joint venture between the Centre for Integrative Law & UCT’s Law@Work Division. I had planned to go in my private capacity as an independent consultant/law lecturer but was fortunate to have attended as a guest of the new and innovative law firm, Whipping the Cat, Tailored Legal Services, one of the many sponsors amongst Investec, Old Mutual, Webber Wentzel, Werkmans, Cognia Law and others.
What transpired amongst the 100 or more delegates and 24 odd speakers throughout the day- consisting solely of women in law in varying capacities as high- powered professionals and practicing lawyers, academics, and consulting entrepreneurs – was a notably conscious energy of women interested in meeting the challenges of a changing legal world.
Amanda Lamond’s brave and honest opening started with a rhetorical question on these lines:
‘In the last decade, more women have entered the profession. Did this mean that there were simply more women professionals in law or did it mean that law was becoming a more ‘feminine’ profession?’
This was followed by the warm and inspiring keynote address by Yvonne Kgama who told of her personal journey of ‘Infinite Grace’ (part of the title of her book ,a Miraculous Awakening which she generously gave to me after I introduced myself to her (and spontaneously hugged her!) commenting on her almost divine wisdom.
The tone was beautifully set.
In an emotional sharing of inspiring stories of the various journeys of women in their legal careers, it became evident that the personal sacrifices for women who have achieved in the legal world required a delicate balance of the head and the heart. Though enormous strides were being made in law firms and the statistics revealed high percentages of women in practice, there appeared to be an issue of retention. Of course changed personal circumstances were often cited as the major cause of this issue -women being the primary caregivers in the family -though some felt that it was possible that both professional and personal life could be satisfactorily combined.
For some though, practice had left them with an uncomfortable, unsatisfied feeling that somehow they had not yet achieved what they had set out to do: that what they had initially envisaged about where their knowledge of law could help to bring justice and equity had culminated in a battlefield of insensitive and uncompromising commercial dealings, where there was often no sense of fairness, no sense of what was morally correct and little personal satisfaction. For others, the summit was an awakening in a sense- an awakening of being allowed to do things differently, of being given permission to explore new ways of bringing law to the world.
Common to all however, was a sense of passion and commitment and desire to change. To start new conversations. Through personal sacrifice and the drive to succeed, breaking new barriers and forging new paths, some things were bound to be neglected. Though achievements were revered and inspiring, a certain shared emotion was felt when vulnerabilities were allowed to be shown, masks withdrawn.
In later breakout sessions on ‘Changing Directions’ more stories of personal conflicts were revealed and shared. Stories of lengthy periods of self –reflection and questioning whether a life in law, as a woman, could be personally fulfilling: whether it was possible to still feel ‘successful’ practicing human rights law in the townships in flat shoes or whether achievement was only attainable in a high-powered commercial practice symbolized by high shoes and short skirts.
As one the sponsors of the summit, Whipping the Cat, the traditional practice of law is already something of the past. The new firm with the unusual name is part of the movement termed ‘NewLaw’ which understands that indeterminate hours of billing time is of no real benefit to clients and puts unnecessary pressure on practitioners to climb up an old hierarchical ladder. With advances in IT and global economic downturns, Whipping the Cat falls into a growing number of alternatives to the traditional law firms where more flexible working arrangements and upfront fixed fees are of greater benefit to the client. The firm was one of the finalists in the innovation category in the 2013 African legal awards, testimony to their recognition in the market.
Their participation at the summit was not-coincidental.
But the synergies were even more glaring, given that I had recently returned from a Law Teachers Conference in Durban where my paper spelt out the uncontroverted ethical crisis in the legal profession and need for change and reflection; given further that the National Forum are meeting to discuss the ramifications and frameworks of the new Legal Practice Act of 2014 which brings change to the profession and that a follow-up Ethics Task Group is meeting next month to discuss the uncontroversial crisis in the legal profession. There is no doubt that matters of ethics and, dare I say , a more feminist approach to law will bring much needed changes to the legal profession.
The day ended with a mindfulness practice and a questionnaire based upon Dr John F Demartini’s book ‘Inspired Destiny’ – an inspiring read in itself and further evidence of synergy in life when you least expect it, having been told of the summit by a mindfulness coach I had recently met.
I could not help noticing, however, that the most beautiful irony was the new life being nurtured in the physical being of Amanda, Director of the Centre of Integrative Law, whose passion and vision brought her there, and how it symbolised the head and the heart of women in law. And how it was because of my own angst with my place in the world of mother or lawyer that I was part of the conversation.
And then I read about an article by Anne- Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic and listened to her Ted Talk and am so excited about what she says that I find her and tweet her and am thrilled that she actually replies and says, ” Thanks @niki You’ll love my book, “#Unfinished Business” ” and suddenly I realize that there’s a whole movement out there and sometimes I really don’t know whether I still want to “Lean In” or just be finished.
will I find out sometime?…