I was going to title this “Working with difficult people” but it doesnt have the same sting or effect as “Working with a**holes.”

According to Adam Grant, an a**hole is a person who “demeans and disrespects other people and, either denies it or just doesn’t care.” All of us have worked with someone who has left us feeling demeaned, de-energised and feeling very bad about our ability, competence and even self worth. That person is an a**hole.

Bob Sutton is an organisational psychologist at Stanford who has studied relationships in the workplace, and he discovered that people are mostly a**holes to their peers and subordinates.  The impact of a**holes is actually measurable, because they create an environment of fear, where people stay silent about mistakes because they are afraid to rock the boat. In addition, working with a**holes makes you dumber, because when someone is disrespected his or her cognitive ability is temporarily affected- which limits your creativity and clear thinking. Working with A**holes makes us all less productive.

In a survey undertaken by the International Bar Association and market research company Acritas, which covered over 7000 respondents from 135 countries- showed that large law firms have a bullying problem. A bully is an a**hole! The study revealed that 55% of female respondents have been bullied, including a female lawyer in Australia who “would cower in the corner of her office” while her manager would kick filing cabinets while screaming at her in a fit of rage. Another respondent said she was bullied to the extent where she considered taking her own life, and began to doubt every aspect of her life- from work and personal.

This is alarming, absolutely unacceptable and can no longer be tolerated. In my personal experience, I worked in a team that systematically kept black lawyers from rising above a certain level, anyone who called this out would be bullied by blatantly false feedback to HR during performance reviews, or starved of work opportunities to the point that they wouldn’t meet their budget and be asked to leave the firm. Another team in the firm was headed by the worst kind of tyrant and a**hole, which has now come to cost the firm its reputation as details have been revealed in the media.

But What About Steve Jobs?


Steve Jobs was infamously known for his cruelty, ruthlessness and meanness – the question is- did he succeed in spite of it or because of it? Grant says, there is a difference between being demanding and demeaning. 

When you are demanding, you have extremely high standards  and a low tolerance for work that falls beneath that. To be demeaning is to devalue other people as human beings- treating them with such disrespect that they feel worthless.

Grants further says that leaders who demean their employees have learned to rationalise their aggression. They see that it gets them short term results, which helps to justify their behaviour, while long term damage is often invisible to them. However the study by the IBA shows that the effect of bullying is that 63% of the respondents will leave their current employer – causing a high staff turnover and up to 14% said this would contribute to them leaving the overall profession.

Having multiple generations in the workplace has led to millennials being referred to as “the Snowflake Generation”, because they, allegedly, take everything so personally and expect to be coddled. Regardless of this view, if you think you have to be demeaning to people to succeed;  then you may be an a**hole.

How To Approach an A**hole

An argument

Sheila Heen, a Havard Law School lecturer and recovering lawyer,  advises that when you want to communicate with an a**hole about their behaviour  you should not “match their energy” in the moment, because they are way more experienced than you and will pummel you. What you rather want to do is to speak to them about the impact of their actions on you.

Heen says not tell them “I don’t know why you feel the need to undermine me or demean me. I don’t know why you feel the need to humiliate everybody and control everything.” Because what you’re doing is you’re telling them something about their intentions and their character, and you can bet that they’re going to argue with you about that. What they can’t argue with is about the impact that it’s had on you. So the most important thing is to separate intentions and impact.

What Companies Can Do About A**holes

Being an a**hole is actually contagious, so the sooner companies can stop them, the better off they will be in the long run.

     1. Zero Tolerance Policy

A zero tolerance policy for demeaning, disrespectful behaviour. A workplace where bullying, sexism and racism are immediately penalised creates an a**hole free environment. According to Luis von Ahn, the founder of Duolingo- a language learning app with 300 million users, he would “rather have a hole than an a**hole.” Which means, he would rather have a vacancy in the team than fill it with the most brilliant a**hole.

In the IBA study, a respondent said “Senior management talks a good game about bullying, but when a big billing lawyer or senior partner is involved the real values show themselves.” The survey shows that of those who were bullied 57% did not report, but of those who did-  72% found that the response was insufficient or negligible.

Law firms and other organisations need to adopt this policy, because it is eroding the enthusiasm and even the quality of work that is produced by employees. If firms do not start living their values, they will soon go the route of Enron, Steinhoff, Bosasa and VBS.

    2. Improve Hiring Processes

When hiring the organisation should consider- which is more costly to the company replacing an average performer with a star, or replacing a toxic employee with an average performer?

As part of the hiring process, Luis recommends that organisations should call the applicants references to ask “Do he/she work well with others?” An unequivocal “yes” is good news, but a qualified “yes” is bad news.

Given the protections received by employees in South Africa and how costly it can be to get rid of them, organisations should invest more into ensuring they hire the right person for the job.

   3. Give Employees a Voice

Cindy Hess is a partner in a  law firm, Fenwick and West which has a very unique way of pairing associates and partners, by letting associates decide which partner they want to work with on a client instruction. After their assignment with that partner, the associates will rate the partner anonymously and state if they would like to work with that partner again.

Grant says it is important to reward and promote people who elevate others – which means paying special attention to how those in power treat others who do not have it. To prevent bosses from acting like a**holes you have to give subordinates power that they wont be victimised for exercising”

Hess says this practice at Fenwick and West allows for news about an a**hole partner to travel fast, so associates are going to choose to work with the people that they enjoy working with—who they’re going to learn from, who are going to mentor them, who are going to take an interest in their career. And those partners who don’t act that way are going to have a really difficult time getting their matters staffed.

I remember when I was doing my articles and it was time for rotations, some of the Candidate Attorneys would actually cry when they found out which team and partner they were assigned to because that person was an a**hole. It would be so empowering it CA’s and junior associates could pick the partner they worked with a free market economy like Fenwick and West, because I am sure some partners would be over subscribed and others would be left with “blue ticks” about their assignments.

   4. Outsource HR

HR is supposed to be impartial and an adjudicator between employees and the employers, yet the reality is that in-house HR is always on the side of the employer. In environments like banks and law firms, HR does not generate fees, therefore are an operational expense at the mercy of fee earners. Therefore, HR will do the bidding of the fee earners, which works especially well if the partner is an a**hole- they will be protected by HR.

If the HR function is outsourced, the contractor does not know the internal dynamics of the organisation and does not have the same motivation of a bonus, medical expenses, etc so an external HR consultant would not have to compromise their independence. The contractor is earning a fixed amount,  in addition they would have other clients that can expose them to dynamic solutions to organisational problems. The contractor would most likely work closely with the CEO or COO of the firm, and it is unlikely they would work one-on-one with each partner, hence their exposure to the a**hole partner is limited and they can do their job properly.


In conclusion, Grant and Sutton admit that an a**hole free workplace does not exist, but it does not mean that organisations should not try to create one. Useful criticism and asking hard questions is welcomed, but being an a**hole is not, therefore when someone acts like one they should be immediately chastised or the behaviour will become normalised.

The legal industry, as revealed through the IBA study has its fair share of a**holes and its up to us to distance ourselves from colleagues that display such horrendous behaviour. We cannot give the title of my learned colleague to an a**hole. We need to do a better job of addressing this behaviour and if they won’t change, then they must leave the company and preferably the profession.

Have you worked with an a**hole?How did you deal with it? or are you a recovering a**hole? How did you self-regulate? Let us know in the comments below.





Adam Grant is back with Season 2 of his podcast Work Life with Adam Grant, where he studies “how to make work not suck.” In one of the most recent episodes, he talks about how rivalries, done right, can actually create success for all parties involved. In this article, lets explore how legal professionals can collaborate as rivals.

Gavin Kilduff is an associate professor at NYU who has carried out extensive research on rivalries, competition and their effect on motivation and performance. As part of their research, Kilduff found that your rivals performance will influence your own performance. We can see this within sports teams where you will find rivalries of iconic duos, like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers statistically played better when they were on the court together.

Kilduff states that rivalry has a physiological effect our bodies, with an increased heart rate and alertness, which can encourage creativity and risk taking. However there is also a downside,  because when the stakes of the competition are really high, it leads to a “whatever it takes to win” mentality that can get destructive. Sir Richard Branson has first hand experience with this when British Airways (“BA”) tried to muscle Virgin Atlantic out of the airline industry with illicit actions such as contacting Virgin  customers to cancel flights and rebook them on BA. In the end BA settled with Virgin for $945 000, which Branson paid to employees as a Christmas bonus!

When we look at the legal industry, our rivals range from colleagues within our workplaces to external competing organisations. The legal industry is quite individualistic in that each practitioner is charged with making a name for themselves, by billing their own fees and arguing their own matters. Therefore collaboration isn’t something we are good at, even within teams, there are instances where senior attorneys would refuse to train junior attorneys because they look at them as a rival. In the end what results is “cut-throat cooperation”, where people pretend to work together, yet hide key information on matters and clients for themselves.

Initiatives by State Owned Companies, like Eskom, IDC, Transnet, etc to pair small black law firms with big law firms on highly specialised matters, in order to promote skills transfer are a prime example of cut throat cooperation. What happens is that the black law firms attend meetings at the client and are copied emails, occasionally review drafts-  but are not  intimately part of the process of actually preparing the work. As a black junior associate in a mostly white team, it wasn’t uncommon to be taken along for meetings to and when you return to the office, you never hear about that matter again. The large law firms see the smaller black firms as potential adversaries and therefore find it difficult to help them to succeed. The white law firm partners see the black associates as future rivals and hence aren’t keen to train or expose them to work.

As lawyers collaboration is not our natural inclination, we are not taught about it in university or during articles. However we have to learn to do so because it will improve the quality of work, and increase billable hours. It is about winning but without becoming a ruthless saboteur. So how do you collaborate cooperatively, when the stakes are high?

1. Have A Reason To Collaborate

From 2014 to 2016, my friends (who are also lawyers) and I ran a food business called Mutton Glutton, selling mutton burgers and sausage rolls at various pop up events between Johannesburg and Pretoria. When we got there we were overwhelmed by the helpfulness of the other vendors, who would give us hotdog or hamburger rolls when we ran out, or let us use their adapters to connect our equipment to the electricity points and even invite us to other gigs where they would be selling. It was the complete opposite of what we were used to in the legal industry. The reason for this was to create more variety for customers, where having options creates more interest in all the stalls because customers want to try a little bit of everything. It was therefore beneficial for us to all cooperate and work as allies working together to reach a wider goal, of keeping customers interested in our stalls than heading to the food court at the mall.

In the legal industry it would be advisable for legal professionals to collaborate with rivals in order to elevate the quality of legal services offered to clients and to also increase the pool of referrals you can make as well as receive. As The Legal Werk we are working on My Learned Colleague as a platform to encourage collaboration of legal professionals, sign up and find out more about to work other lawyers in a ways thats beneficial to all. The official start date will be announced soon, so make sure you are signed and don’t miss out.

2. Have Respect For Each Other

According to Grant, there are 2 types of respect- “the respect you earn and the respect you are owed.” Owed respect is egalitarian and is due to you as a human being, whereas earned respect is meritocratic and is bestowed on you for your performance or your contribution to your company or industry.

In the legal profession, we tend to place earned respect above owed respect- if a person works in a bigger firm, specialises in a very niche legal area or argued matters in higher courts, we give them respect on that basis other than simply that they are a qualified legal professional.

Often times the practice of law can be seen as a zero sum game, wherein its each lawyer for him/herself- legacies and livelihoods are in  the balance of billable hours. However as legal professionals we have all been subjected to bad lawyer jokes or just heard some terrible interpretation of law by non- lawyers.

Therefore in order to elevate respect for our profession, we need to have respect for one another.

3. Agree On Status

Once you establish mutual owed respect, then you have to agree on status and seniority of the players in the relationship. The junior legal advisor must defer to the head of legal as his/ her senior in matters, rather than thinking they are on the same level. Too much similarity causes tensions between the rivals and leads to cut throat actions if the parties can not agree on who is more senior. You want the more senior professional to feel they are handing the torch to the next generation of legal professionals and not like they are putting a nail in their own career’s coffin.

4. Check Your Emotions

When your rivals loses or is facing a challenge, you may feel a shot of happiness caused by their misfortune, but, when they win you may feel green with envy. However in a friendly rivalry the emotions are a little more complex because as much as you want to do well, you also want the other person to succeed. According to Grant, “its ok to envy your rivals success, as long as you also celebrate it.”

Working with a rival can be hard, but it pushes you to do your best and overall elevates the quality of competitiveness in your field. Lets be open minded in approaching this exercise whether its within our immediate teams or with other colleagues in the legal industry.  Although this the opposite of A Hunger Games mentality, I think the phrase “May the odds ever be in your favour” still applies.

Share your thoughts on this post below.

A few days ago my left eye started to sting in the middle of the night, it felt as though something was in my eye. I woke up, looked at my reddening eye and rinsed it with warm water. The rinsing soothed it, but I as I blinked I kept feeling the foreign object. The thought of going to the emergency room at 1am crossed my mind, but like a reasonable person,  I decided to start by consulting a well trusted medical expert:

Dr Google, told me to tape my eye shut and check on it in a few hours and I took the doctors orders. As I was struggling to fall asleep I opened my Spotify gospel playlist and heard a popular Hillsong tune being sang by a voice I was unfamiliar with. It got me thinking about the Hillsong Music model, that looks free but ultimately is not.

The Hillsong Hustle

Hillsong Church was founded in Australia with over 80 church affiliates world wide and at least 100 000 people attending services weekly. Apart from the charismatic messages, hipster fashion and concert like production, the musical arm of the church which has been ubiquitous in the Christian scene for over 20 years.

Hillsong allows all churches worldwide to play or sing their songs, with lyrics included for free, without paying the church any royalty. According to a report by Fader , all Hillsong songs have 2 copyrights, which is the “mechanical” royalty for the music and lyrics (sheet music) and a “performance” royalty for the music you hear. Every time a song is played on Spotify, or Apple music, the song writers get paid the mechanical royalty and the performance royalty is paid to the church. It may raise an eyebrow that the money for the performance royalty is paid to the church and not the musicians singing the songs, however there may be background arrangements that aren’t public.

Therefore it is in Hillsong’s interest to distribute their music freely to all churches because, people hear it while having a spiritual experience and will want to buy the music to recreate that environment at home- which in turn will increase their profitability. Hillsong artists and other Christian musicians will also visit a YouTube show called New Songs Cafe to debut their new music, inspiration behind it and breakdown the musical chords. Hillsong features predominantly on this channel as they produce new albums every year.

The Terror of Templates 

Every lawyer has been asked to share a template or precedent document by another colleague, a client or even a family member. If you refuse to share the document out of intellectual property concerns and the need for customisation of each document, the response is usually annoyance followed by “so you want to charge me for a template?! As if you are going to draft it from scratch!” or some variation of this response. The question of form versus substance is what drives either side. A person without a legal degree may just want a piece of paper with the title “Contract” or “Summons” at the top so that they can proceed with their transaction or action at the lowest price possible.

So should we give the people what they want?

Legal tech start ups like Legal Zoom in the USA and Lenoma Legal in Bloemfontein provide templates to legal documents at fixed, affordable cost, but if the client wants the document to be customised or reviewed then the client will have to pay for a consultation and further drafting.

Providing templates for free or at a fixed cost would be a way to replicate the Hillsong model, because the clients will come back to pay more for the additional, personalised services. I also think a number of law firms would find that their colleagues are the ones downloading the templates and not lay people or clients. Lawyers are usually loathe to share templates, but it may be time to rethink this attitude and do something counterintuitive like giving away templates for free.

We’re curious on your views on the topic and ask that you take the poll the below.

Ziyanda Ntshona (L) and Soria Hay (R)

On the eve of International Womens Day, we hosted a talk entitled “Show Me The Money; becoming a greater NegotiatHer” in fireside chat with Ziyanda Ntshona and Soria Hay. This discussion tackled issues around gender parity and solutions to closing the gender pay gap among women in law firms and those in corporate structures as represented by Ziyanda an equity partner at Webber Wentzel and Soria the founding partner at Bravura.

Ziyanda Ntshona (L) and Soria Hay (R)

Ziyanda Ntshona (L) and Soria Hay (R)

In an intimate gathering of 25 women in various stages of their legal careers, we started the evening with a short negotiation exercise that encouraged the women to find middle ground by playing two temperamental sisters vying over a single orange.

Ziyanda who sits on the remuneration committee of Webber Wentzel shared about the work that is happening in the firm to address the gender pay gap and also pointed out that the highest paid partner at Webber Wentzel is a woman- Sally Hutton who is also the firms Managing Partner. She shared about the reality of the biology which affects the practice of a woman as she takes maternity leave, as it means when she returns to work after 4 months, her pipeline of work may have dried up and she has to start knocking on doors of clients and also other partners to build up her practice. Ziyanda also noted that her salary increase in the years her children were born wasn’t as high as when she had put in a full years of working. In her opening remarks, Ziyanda acknowledged that women of colour are at the lowest point of the totem pole when comes to pay across the legal industry, due to simply billing lower hours that their counterparts because of a lack of access to work, opportunities and social capital.

Ziyanda shared the following comments on the solutions to close the gender pay gap:

“When you get your salary letter its too late to start the negotiations. You can’t try to moonwalk.”


  • Salary negotiations must be held at the beginning of the financial year. She noted that women have a very high strike rate, but tend to set targets too low, so challenge yourself and set high targets!
  • Women need to participate in their own gender initiatives, so support and appoint female leaders. We spoke briefly about the lack of female representation on the JSE Top 40 companies with only 1 female CEO.
  • Income is performance based, so its important to perform and also to make sure that your boss knows you are performing when its time for salary increases. You need to know what you have to do to achieve the increase you want.
  • Network in your own way, if you can’t connect the white male general counsel, rather connect with his junior legal officer who is a black female and your careers will grow together.

“Be deliberate about your career or you will have to take whatever you are given.”

We asked Candice Pillay, an equity at Hogan Lovells to also contribute on the discussion with her views creating male allies in the legal industry. She shared on the importance of finding a sponsor who will create the work pipeline for you, so you need to make your sponsor aware of all you are doing in your practice so they can represent and also protect you. Candice emphasised that the success of your relationship with your sponsor rests with you, so you must drive the relationship and also take a similar approach when looking for work- so get to know the clients.  She also stated that the challenge with women supporting each other in the workplace may arise when female partners are fighting their own battles, and not where they want to be in the income structures- therefore may not be the best sponsors.

Soria Hay, shared her career journey where she started out in a law firm in Pretoria and quickly realised that the law firm structure was not for her. Soria started Bravura when she was 29 years old, and divorced with 2 small children. She asked the women to consider whether they would be happy if they were at the top position of the companies they currently work for and if not, they need to find the right place for themselves.

Her view from legal practice to corporate was important for us to learn what happens on the other side.

Her comments on the topic were as follows:

“A reasonable fee is whatever is you can get away with”

  • Clients buy merit, quality service and dedication- which includes clear, swift communication and she insists on feedback within a 24 hour turnaround.
  • When accepting a new job, women often do not negotiate the starting salaries which means they will receive a low bonus and low salary increase because they start off in a bad position. Do your homework relentlessly to know what is a market related salary and do not accept what the company tells you is a market related salary.
  • Know your unique selling proposition and price yourself accordingly, when people try to push back respond  like L’Oreal and tell them “because I am worth it.”
  • Be careful of a “Sisterhood” because if we don’t like the Boys Club, then don’t form a sisterhood in the work place. Be a professional that carried herself with authority, rather than a giggly gossip girl because it hurts you in the long run when people cant take you seriously.
  • With regards to finding a sponsor, it is important to speak in the language of your sponsor- not dialect, but to talk about what they talk about and whats important to them professionally so assimilation will be easier. Not talking about wedding dresses and girly chit chat.
  • “Work like you aren’t a mother and be a mother like you don’t work.”Figure out what matters and matters less eg cooking responsibilities, buying groceries can be done by another person, so don’t waste time on activities that do not add quality to your life.
  •  Call out your colleagues when they are sexist, racist and make inappropriate jokes. Bravura uses english as the mode of communication in the company so if someone if caught speaking vernacular, on the 3rd time they have to buy lunch for the whole department.
  • Learn to use your voice to bring down tensions in negotiations and find phrases that diffuse the situations.
  • Soria walks the talk and we applaud that Bravura does not have a gender pay gap!

One of our guests shared how she went from earning R400 000 per annum to R 1.8 million per annum from working for an employer that was mistreating her to finding a company that valued her contribution form the experience she gained in the previous role.

We wanted our guests to not only learn about how to make money, but also how to keep the money they make so it can work for them, hence we partnered with PPS – the Professional Provident Society which is a financial services company that is exclusively focused on graduate professionals. If you would like to find out more about PPS and the products they offer, drop us an email.

Thank you to our sponsors at Hogan Lovells for the amazing venue and for seeing the vision we have through this platform.

Thank you to all the women who attended, we value each of you and look forward to hearing how you have become great NegotiatHers in 2020’s event.

*Originally published in the Huffington Post on 5/02/2018

What do Patrice Motsepe, Peter Thiel, Herb Kelleher and Cyril Ramaphosa have in common? They are all billionaires – and also have law degrees!
I looked into the advantage a background in law can give one as an entrepreneur, as these billionaire law graduates currently operate in various fields – from ICT and mining to the airline industry. This list of billionaires should show that a law degree isn’t for people who are bad at maths.
In South Africa, the Bachelor of Laws is a four-year degree, then an additional two years is spent in articles, along with board exams to become an admitted attorney. This is a six-year road – if you do a straight LLB in the allocated time.
Therefore it is very encouraging to note that there are other options in which you can apply the skills, apart from legal practice.
Here are the five skills lawyers have that entrepreneurs need:
1. Analytical and sequential thinking
As a first-year law student, you learn how to research, and you’re also taught to approach legal matters with a formulaic methodology, which is:
  • consider the facts;
  • consider the law;
  • apply the law to the facts; and
  • conclude.
As an entrepreneur you need to know how to research relevantly, especially in the startup phase, or a lot of time will be wasted on what can be solved with one carefully worded Google search. Clients tend to be emotional when relaying facts, and as an attorney, you should be dispassionate – to sift through the flood of feelings to find core elements in order to resolve the matter.

In both law and entrepreneurship: read before you think!

Entrepreneurship can at times feel like untangling Christmas lights – you know it’s going to be pretty, but you don’t know where to start. Perhaps this is why people ask how an attorney can defend a rapist, murderer or thief – you remove your prejudices and preferences to look at the letter of the law.
When researching your matter, you look at previous cases that have been decided on a matter with similar facts – but you look at the ones that support your case and also those against your case.
In entrepreneurship, if you have tunnel vision you will fail – you must look at your competitors, plus those who have different but complementary goods and services, to forge partnerships. Successful entrepreneurs read a lot and read widely, even outside their field – as do attorneys.
For example, lawyers who have matters relating to the Road Accident Fund may need to read about different body parts, and the effects of injuries to these parts on a clients’ quality of life and earning abilities.
In both law and entrepreneurship: read before you think!
2. Negotiation
Although there is no specific module that teaches negotiation in law school (to my knowledge), by the time one is admitted as a practising attorney you have learned the art of negotiation – negotiating with the clerks at court to draw a file after lunch, negotiating with the lecturer for that extra mark to get out of the supplementary exam, negotiating fees with clients, or negotiating with the other side to settle a matter out of court. As an entrepreneur, you need to know how to negotiate with an investor.
Even lawyers who have a really bad case will do their best to represent their client, so just because as an entrepreneur you are the small guy, don’t let that discourage you from voicing your needs.
In a negotiation, you need to come in with a list of non-negotiables. With lawyers, as creatures of instruction, the client will set that baseline – but as an entrepreneur, you are free to set that base for yourself. I heard a lawyer once say, “In a good negotiation, no one should leave with everything they want.”

Real-life law practice is nothing like “Suits” or “Boston Legal”, just like real-life entrepreneurship is nothing like “Billions” or as fast as “Million Dollar Listing”…

3. Articulation of points and presentation
A good lawyer, regardless of the nature of their legal practice, knows how to communicate effectively; to articulate and lay out their argument with simplicity and accuracy. In law school, we all have to do some kind of moot court presentation, and good universities will also require a thesis. These are the breeding grounds for teaching the skill of succinct communication. Regardless of your personality type – whether introverted or extroverted – is very important to know how to vocalise a concept.
As an entrepreneur, you are selling a product or service, so you need to distil your pitch using the infamous elevator pitch. As a lawyer, you need to present your case both orally and verbally before a grumpy judge or client to get to the point quickly.
Entrepreneurs must know how to make a persuasively written proposal to investors who spend hours looking through proposals, so you can get your foot in the door for a meeting to speak! Real-life law practice is nothing like “Suits” or “Boston Legal“, just like real-life entrepreneurship is nothing like “Billions” or as fast as “Million Dollar Listing“. But one element that is accurate, is the ability to be coherent in your speech.
4. Confidence
Lawyers possess the right amount of confidence – without the arrogance of investment bankers or the aloofness of accountants. As a lawyer, a client’s life, family, business or career rests on your ability to do an incredible job, which is a lot of pressure – but in that you also find purpose. In law school, you are taught the gravity of the profession in shaping society, and this gives great confidence – to know that you are part of a profession that gives life to the law and influences the world.
Entrepreneurs must be confident in the solution they present, and also in that they are the right person to solve this problem for their community – and even the world. People are attracted to someone with confidence, and want that person on their legal team or as a partner.

Unfortunately, too many partners in big law firms are so busy chasing their own fees and bonuses that they no longer place a premium on training.

5. Team work
I agree with Tucker Max that the legal profession is akin to a trade, because you need someone to train you and serve as an apprentice. The person who is your principle is what can tip the scale on whether or not one becomes a prolific lawyer, or disappears into the herd.
Even as a genius, you will need a mentor to give you an opportunity to shine and make a ton of mistakes. Unfortunately, too many partners in big law firms are so busy chasing their own fees and bonuses that they no longer place a premium on training.
In law, you can’t be successful solo; a partner who invests in training will grow their team’s ability to earn more fees in the long run, advocates need attorneys to brief them and work on certain documents, and judges need their clerks.
If you are serious about entrepreneurship, you need to know how to work with people, and you will want a team – because there is no way to do everything on your own without something slipping. As an entrepreneur, you set the culture for the rest of the team – it’s not stagnant like the legal fraternity, so be inclusive, patient, tolerant, kind and make it fun!
There are a number of other qualities, like leadership – some of the most famous leaders have studied law, such as Abraham Lincoln, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Standard Bank joint CEO Sim Tshabalala.
To the law graduates currently looking for jobs in articles, or those frustrated in firms, I say there is the option of making your own way in the world – including opening a startup, because you already have the qualities to make it as a great entrepreneur!
I had a startup while I was in university, making faith-based clothing apparel. I stopped it when I started articles.
Who knows what it could have grown into, if I didn’t stop – and had rather followed that path, as opposed to the well-beaten route in law?
Now I’m back in entrepreneurship using, my law degree to try to innovate in the legal-practice fraternity through Lawgistics Legal
Consultants, to make the prfession more equitable for lawyers and clients.
Don’t be discouraged by rejections – they may be opportunities for redirection.
For example, if you learn to code – or any other skill to couple with your law degree – it will set you apart in a class of your own!
Carpe diem,my learned colleagues!

A recent discussion between Hollywood actresses Gabrielle Union, Ellen Pompeo, Gina Rodriguez and Emma Roberts on Net-a-Porter’s platform showed the inequality in pay between men and women, and also between women of different races.

It is well documented that Ellen Pompeo earns at least $20 million a year for her work in Greys Anatomy, making her one of the highest paid TV actresses. In the conversation she said her negotiation was based on the value that her “face” has brought the show for over 12 years. The show has made a revenue of almost $3.2 billion since it started and she wanted a part of that.

Gabrielle Union explained that she was not aware how much white actresses were not only asking for- but also receiving, and that it had never occurred to her to ask for those kind of figures because Hollywood discourages the discussion of salaries. Rodriguez added that a woman of latino decent, she was simply happy to be in the room, so she wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful by asking for more, which could lead to losing the opportunity to work.

In most workplaces right now, its time to negotiate salary increases and bonus payout season. Its time for people to find out about promotions from Candidate Attorney to Associate, or Associate to Senior Associate, or most coveted title of Partner.
Similar to Hollywood most workplaces discourage or even prohibit the comparison of salaries between employees. I have often wondered why this rule exists, who does it protect?
Here are 5 things to consider as you go into your salary increase negotiations:
1. Dismiss the Tiara Syndrome
I first heard of the Tiara Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, but the phrase was coined by Carol Frohlinger  who said “Women expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head. That never happens.”
Doing good work and being diligent is extremely important,that’s what keeps you in the game.  You also need to have a career strategy to get to the next level. This could include studying further, networking, getting a mentor to guide you, etc- because good things do not come to those who wait in the corporate world.
“Do not wait for power to be offered. Like that Tiara it may never materialise.” says Sandberg.
2. Know The Numbers
It is important for you to know how much your team has made in the past and current financial year, as well as your contribution to that bottom line. This may be easier to do in a law firm, but if you work in a company, it may be a little harder to do because legal services may not generate fees towards the bottom line.
Perhaps you can look at the number of transactions you advised on that closed and their value to the company, as well as the amount of money you saved on the legal budget by doing things yourself or keeping tight reigns on external legal advisors.
This ensures that your request in rooted in reality and shows the superiors that you have done your homework.
3. Whats Worth More Than Money? 
Determine what is worth more than money for you and ask for that.
If you want to work more flexi-hours – then ask for 2 days working remotely and 3 days working in the office. If you want to study a short course, ask the company to pay for it without any conditions- like paying back the money.
Ask for something that will add to your happiness bottom line, in a way that money can’t fulfill.
4. Compare and Contrast

Yes, talk to others in the company and in similar positions elsewhere about what they earn.
Money is a sensitive topic, so rather look at it as certificates of completion! If you are doing the same work as another person, don’t want to know that you are being equally valued?
 It starts with you being brave enough to talk to your colleagues about it. Its important to also note that you must not attack your colleagues who earn more. The problem is with the system that rewards people unfairly, so focus your frustration towards towards challenging the status quo and make your colleagues your ally.
The money you earn is not a reflection of your value and worth, it is what someone else has priced you at- so, do not take it too seriously. Focus on your internal worth and work on ways that will eventually allow you to price yourself.
5. You Belong Here
You have your qualifications. You got the job. You show up everyday and give your best. You belong here! You have put in the work to earn the title, so pull up the seat at the table. When you get ready for the negotiations, you are not asking for a favour, you have demonstrated your capabilities.
Always be grateful and never take any opportunity for granted, but not to the detriment of your well being – physically, emotionally or financially. Perhaps you have run your course in the organisation, but you always belong in the profession as a legal professional! Own your space.
Talking about money is not easy, but money is such an important part of our livelihood. We need better tools to have the confidence to approach the topic, and I trust that these 5 points to consider will make the discussion easier and leave you with more money in the bank!
Is there anything else that you do when negotiating your salary increase?

A few weeks ago, @Mochievous, a lawyer and fountain of twitter wisdom shared a number of career options for lawyers who feel stuck in law firms. In my experience, when we are in university we were only exposed to the traditional careers for law graduates, such as practising in a law firm, working in a bank or becoming an advocate. I only found out about the option of law-preneurship such as running a legal consultancy after I was admitted as an attorney.

There is a misconception that lawyers are stuck in a certain practice area and can only work in the jurisdiction they have been admitted into. Today we want to share more options to get you to look at your law degree with new, excited eyes!


1. Risk Management

This is really the bedrock of corporate legal practice. If you are interested in this area, there are many affordable professional certifications you can do. Do the exams, then use it as leverage to negotiate higher pay or better still, move to another industry.

Getting an additional qualification will help you to move up and out of your present situation, click here to find out how to earn qualification in risk management.

2. Corporate Governance

Corporate Governance for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). A lot of SMEs are stuck in this area & are often looking for advice. For this, you might have to dabble into some business development because if you are useful to SMEs beyond “legal advice”, they are more likely to hire you. You can do this as a side hustle. We have collaborated with Africa Legal to secure a 30% discount for our readers on the online Practical Corporate Governance Course for the Modern African Lawyer offered by the University of Cape Town Law @ Work. If you want to take advantage of this offer, get in touch via email.

3. Finance

The general perception is that lawyers are not good with numbers, but if you do not fall into this category you can consider writing exams to become a Chartered Financial Analyst. This can help you step into a career in Investment Banking and makes you a double threat with your law degree.

4. Management Consulting

Top management firms like McKinsey hire for a problem solving skill set as opposed to a degree. The interview processes are quite tedious, but if you survived board exams, law school and made billable hours- this is something you can handle. In addition, management consultants earn high salaries.

5. Tax Advisory

Although this is a specialised area, tax is essential in any transaction. You can decide to study a post graduate diploma or an LLM degree in tax. This will allow for you to work in public or private sector and internationally.

6. Policy

As lawyers we are trained to implement policy, and there is an opportunity to get on the side of preparing and drafting policy. There are courses that are available to learn about Policy Development and Management.

7. Development 

The African continent has a number of agencies and non profit organisations that work in development, which would also feel like a natural transition as an attorney. There are openings within the Development Bank of South Africa, African Development Bank, and other international foundations that you can look out for such as NGO Pulse.

8. Project Management

There are various courses available, including online courses on a platform like Udemy to equip you for making the transition.

9. Transportation and Supply Chain 

Infrastructure development is high on the agenda across the African continent, this is especially important to promote trade and the simple movement of goods and people. There are courses offered online and even through polytechnics. 

10. Compliance 

A compliance officer is an employee of a company who helps that company maintain policies and and procedures to remain within an industry’s regulatory framework. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs in compliance.



You don’t have to feel stuck in thinking that a law degree is limiting, but rather look at it as a foundation to build into other careers. If possible, you can stagger your career as you age- eg 20’s in the law firm, 30’s in private sector (options 1-5)  and 40’s in more public sector work (options 7-8).
Also consider finding ways to re-purpose your existing skills to serve an new market, for example we consider environmental law is important for mining, construction and extractive industries – however even restaurants need to consider its environmental footprint.
There are multiple routes to fulfilling career as an attorney, if you look around and become creative in crafting your career. There is also nothing wrong with rising in the ranks of a law firm to become a partner and build your practice in that way. We just want to see you building a successful lifestyle in law!
What changes have you made in your career?

The application link to the ILFA Secondment can be found here.

Good luck 🙂


The Concept:
After conducting the Werk Crush Wednesday interviews I realised that women did not have a plan around how to network intentionally. In the legal profession, women of colour have challenges with finding clients and building big practices, and without networking platforms- its going to remain difficult. I decided that I wanted to create an event to promote networking and to allow for natural mentorship to occur, as legal professionals.  This led to the birth of The Legal Werk Brunch!
The Speakers
Our speakers were incredible, from the Legal Advisor of the President of the Republic of South Africa- Advocate Nokukhanya Jele sharing us about her work, style and journey. We also had Akunna Onwu and Vennduke Chigumba sharing about the value of coaching and creating a personal brand respectively. It was important for the speakers to highlight how lawyers can be autonomous and create their own brand while being part of a large firm and in the larger legal industry.

From a poster to in person

All our speakers were  phenomenal and were relatable, speaking  in a way that is genuine, empathetic and shared a lot from their personal experiences. Listening Advocate Jele her talking about her work- how Oliver Reginald Tambo was the first to suggest that she should become a lawyer- because she was an argumentative child, tp how she flunked out of university in France and worked as an administrator in a financial institution for the rest of the year. She then moved to New York to complete her studies in Political Science, which she then crowned with an LLM. (She did her LLB after obtaining her LLM)
She shared about feeling that she didn’t fit into the South African landscape as a mixed race child in apartheid and how she found belonging by going door to door conducting a research study in some of the poorest areas of Cape Town as an intern. She shared the gems of wisdom she received from Constitutional Court Chief Justice Pius Langa – who she clerked for- and how his humble wisdom and excellence still guides her to this day. She reenacted her sleepy voice  when she received a call from President Cyril Ramaphosa! (See the video on our Instagram)
She cautioned the younger legal professionals to be patient with our journeys- as things rarely make sense in the moment- but to keep doing what we need to do, until we can do what we want to do!
 I took her through some of the questions we ask our Werk Crush Wednesday and her response to a bad recommendation about law- was that she wishes clients would have a lawyer present from Day 1, as opposed to waiting until Day 78. “If a lawyer is in the room on Day 1, chances are- you won’t get to to Day 78.” Isn’t so true?!
When she is stressed or overwhelmed, in a meeting, she will start to write her thoughts to collect herself and do her best to keep a straight face. She also writes herself lots of little notes including this quote from the poem ‘Fleurs du mal’ by Charles Baudelaire which says “La, tout n’est qu’ordre et beaute, luxe, calme et volupte.” (There is all order and beauty, luxury, peace and pleasure). Her closet staples are a good pair of flats and although she doesnt wear make up- she is part of the Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb squad!

Pensive, yet attentive and so patient.

The Guests
Our attendees ranged from high school students, law students, legal advisors in bank and corporates, lawyers who run their firms, lawyers in big law firms to advocates.

Grade 12’s from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls


A big thank you to our sponsors from Hogan Lovells who provided an amazing venue and PPS who sponsored the food. I want to make a special thank you to some partners at Hogan Lovells who also made a cash contribution towards the day!

Hogan Lovells Terrace


The Netwerk:

Out of the Legal Werk, we have decided to birth The Netwerk which is primarily focused on meeting the objective above- of creating a platform for women in law to network. I had such goosebumps watching the women be so engaged and offer up opportunities to expose some junior lawyers to other legal fields. Keep in touch for updates about next year events as both The Legal Werk and The Netwerk! The Legal Werk will continue to have industry wide discourses and stay tuned for whats to come next!
Thank you all for coming on the day, engaging and making this day a success!

The Legal Werk

This week the HBO show Insecure explored the differences between predominantly black and white law firms in the episode “Familiar Like”.

Although I have written about workplace cultures, from the value of criticism to the myth of culture fit, the life in law firms is a unique beast and watching this weeks episode reminded me of this.


The episode showed the character Molly, is a lawyer, who is proficient in  her work but kept getting overlooked for promotion in her previous law firm- which was predominantly white. She tries to get into the white boys club by attending sport games, going to drinks, but hears she has “potential” and was not quite ready for the next level. Molly then decides to make a move to a black law firm, and this episode shows how it isn’t quite what she expected.

So whats the difference?

I started my legal career in  an international law firm, that became a national law firm and international again. Its a long story. In any event it was a predominantly white law firm with over 300 lawyers- so it could be considered a mid to large size law firm. I worked in departments that had a white lead, but within that were smaller teams led by a few black lawyers.

My first time working in a black firm, was when I started one and from that experience I would like to highlight 3 main differences that Molly alluded in the episode.

1) Access To Resources:

Over drinks, Molly complains to her friends that the black law firm doesn’t have an electronic courier service, keeps files in her office and that she has to manually bill her hours- all of which are an inconvenience to her. I had all of these complaints when I started Lawgistics Legal Consultants, so I had to find a solution.

One of the questions we ask during interviews with our Werk Crush Wednesdays for The Legal Werk  is “What apps do you use to increase productivity?”, because we understand the role of technology in practice. The use of legal tech is on the rise- helping lawyers to find accurate and relevant research, manage billing and invoicing, sign documents electronically (eg Docu-sign) and overall helps to increase efficiency in the provision of legal services.

The challenge is that technological resources or even additional offsite storage cost money. Money that black law firms won’t have to spend for simple convenience. In our firm, Lawgistics Legal Consultants, we share Lexis Nexis credentials with another colleague- the way you share a Netflix account with friends.

I have a suggestion that may seem counter cultural to law firms, where we are taught to view the next lawyer as your competitor rather than your collaborator. Would it be totally insane for bigger law firms to subsidize the costs of the various licences for smaller law firms? It is generosity, ploughing back into the fraternity to increase the overall level of performance of all lawyers!

Is that such a radical idea?

2) Culture 

On Mollys first day, the senior partner of the firm welcomes her heartily at the door and during lunch, one of the senior partners invites her for a walk and then offers to help her on a matter. She enjoys the friendliness and “family” feel of it all, but takes it too far when she makes a snide comment about the senior partner running late for a meeting.

In my time in a big  law firm, my discussions with white partners or even some colleagues were a little strained and solely confined to work. The usual topic was around my hair, which was often inspired by Rihanna and as a lawyer- she may not have been the most appropriate muse.

I had this exact hairstyle

The black professionals were often chastising me for being so audacious with my style, and white people found it amusing, yet while they complimented it, they were not giving me work. I felt safe within the nucleus of the black teams, but there was a familial feel that wasn’t professional at times. Where the white partners would let us call them by their first names, at times the black partners would prefer to be addressed by their title, or even “Ma”.

On the other hand, because there were limited opportunities to create familiarity with the white partners- it was difficult to progress and get promoted. We would see the white partners and associates that spent weekends and shared family dinners together getting the promotions- even if they weren’t the highest billing associates.

This is one of the causes of high staff turnover among younger legal professionals (44% of associates leave their firms after 3 years*), and it is usually interesting to see those people who were frustrated in large law firms, going on to to thrive and succeed elsewhere. This confirms the problems was not with the person, but with the environment.

3) Perceptions

Would you appoint Nelson Mandela was your lawyer in 2018?

We cannot deny the perceptions that exist about a life in big law- there is even an entire site dedicated to meme-fying the distress suffered by junior lawyers. And why do people put themselves through this? We all know what happens in the big law firms, but the allure of money and prestige are more attractive than the inevitable pain.

A lawyer that comes from a big, white law firm has the benefit of being perceived as competent and it is up to them to mess up. Whereas a lawyer from a black firm isn’t so easily trusted and rather has to build up their credibility. I have seen this first hand after leaving the large law firm and trying to talk to the same clients I was servicing while in the firm. The questions are usually “do you have the capacity to do X?”/ “how many years experience do you have in X?” / “Who are your clients?”, which I did not hear when I would go to meetings with a senior partner as an associate in the large law firms. Some people are not interested in being sized up and would rather focus on the end results of doing work and getting paid so they prefer to stay in the big law firm to enjoy the positive perceptions.

Kelli, a friend of Mollys makes a comment that the problem is black people perpetuate negative perceptions about each other, because we do not trust each other. As black people we should be patrons of each others’ businesses, but lets not patronise each other. I think it is essential to have a feedback loop so that genuine issues can be highlighted and resolved without bad mouthing each other. I recently worked with a correspondent attorney in another city and was sorely disappointed by the service he provided and defensive stance when I approached the issue. I made the decision that I will not bad mouth him, but I will no longer use his services or refer anyone to him.

In closing, this episode of Insecure, although lighthearted and clothed in humour was addressing very important topics in the legal fraternity. And its all up to us, as the custodians of the profession, do we want to do the legal werk to make resources more equitable and accessible for all? to the change the culture in firms? and decry negative perceptions around the profession in general?