How I obtained my current position
I applied for Bowman Gilfillan’s vacation programme online and was afforded the opportunity to work for them in my third year of Business Science (prelim A law) at the Cape Town offices. Considering I applied for vacation work quite early on in my law degree, I was invited by Bowman Gilfillan the following year as well, to attend their Selection Day in Cape Town. The Selection Day was a great way for the firm to identify potential candidates, and to assess them in situations that attorneys readily find themselves on a day-to-day basis. It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to consider how compatible I was with the firm. The rest, as they say, is history!
How your qualification relates to your work
Although practicing law is completely different to what you expect it will be as a student, UCT’s law degree provides you with the tools to excel in the legal field. Understanding the law is the first port of call on any matter or transaction – be it pure commercial litigation or something more specific like Banking and Finance. This means that research, which is primarily the responsibility of the most junior lawyer on any team, is the fundamental foundation. UCT has more than adequately prepared its law students, me included, to tackle legal research by providing access to various research platforms and allowing one to hone their skills with different assessments throughout the degree. The Legal Clinic has certainly helped to develop softer skills as not only is client interaction common, but pro bono work is something that larger law firms encourage. In addition, the intermediate year of the UCT law degree allows one to tackle a realistic legal problem from start to finish, which is useful practice for legal questions you may be presented with in future. This exercise promotes strategic thinking, which is a vital skill in litigation matters.
My Business Science undergraduate degree has afforded me a competitive edge being in a corporate firm. I am more familiar with financial jargon and financial mechanisms, and accordingly able to focus on the legal aspect of these issues. Economics has been especially useful during my rotation in the Competition Law Department, as there is a complimentary interplay between the two areas which I find fascinating. However, this is not to say that you will be at a disadvantage without having completed a commerce degree – the commercial aspects are important to understand but are ancillary to the legal issues. And, everyone learns on the job!
Skills that contributed to my success
Management skills are key. You have to learn how to manage people, time and multiple tasks. As a junior lawyer, you are likely to be answerable to more than one senior which highlights the importance of learning how to manage people’s expectations on delivery times. You will also have to learn how to maintain your wits in the face of tight deadlines, but should also have the patience to consider issues properly and thoroughly.
At Bowman Gilfillan, we have the opportunity to rotate to a different department every 6 months within the two years of articles. This exposes us to various areas of law that require different support from Candidate Attorneys. For example, during my Competition rotation, I assisted with merger filings for international and domestic firms with the Competition Commission of South Africa. This often involved research into the relevant markets in order to assess the competitive effect of the merger. I also assisted with competition litigation including tasks like noting witness statements for a global cartel as well as the more mundane tasks, in preparation for a trial. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the KPMG/Netcare matter which involved an alleged conflict of interest. This matter was a prime example of the broad spectrum of work a Candidate Attorney covers – from the more routine physical preparation of court documents to strategic discussions with counsel which allowed for substantive input into our arguments.
Involvement at UCT
I volunteered with SHAWCO in my undergraduate degree as well as SHAWCO law project, LAWCO, in my post-graduate degree. I also served on the committee for LAWCO – this has been the most rewarding experience to date. I highly recommend law students take part in this initiative!
Getting a competitive edge while at UCT
If you are considering joining any sport, leadership body, community service initiative; stop considering it and do it! The experience you get from extra-curricular activities cannot be gained from studying. Doing well academically does not make you stand out when there are hundreds out there who are achieving similar results as you. It is imperative to develop your personality and character, and to ensure your CV reflects that you are in fact multi-dimensional. However, be sure not to bite off more than you can chew, because good academic results are still the first hurdle to achieve when applying for articles.
About approaching your own career development journeys
I recommend doing as many vacation programmes as you possibly can to get an idea of what the law industry is about and to identify which firm’s culture best suits you. I also recommend doing job shadowing in fields other than law so you are better informed and more comfortable with the decisions you make. Don’t just go with the flow and get caught in the trap of what is expected to follow at each stage of your life and of your career. There are limitless opportunities out there so make your own path and follow your passion.
Advice for graduates entering the world of work
Your attitude is everything at this stage of your career. Articles is usually not glamorous and you will often (but not always) be tasked with tedious activities. But, remember that every task is vital to the bigger picture. So accept every instruction with grace, and perform every task giving 200% of your effort. Build relationships with people in your firm and in the field; you never know when or how your lives may cross in future and what opportunities may arise from them. Be kind but be strong.