What does the South African attorneys’ profession look like in 2013?


The extent to which South Africans of all races and genders are equally able to enter the attorneys’ profession has long been a matter of concern. The Justice Portfolio Committee of Parliament recently quizzed the Law Society of South Africa on the demographics of the profession, and the extent to which it has become increasingly representative of the population.

The Law Society furnished Parliament with the following statistics:

In 2013, South Africa has 21 463 practising attorneys. Of these, 41% are white men. Black men and white women come in with considerably lower figures, almost tied for second place at 24% and 23% respectively. Black women come in with much lower figures, representing only 12% of practising attorneys in this country.

Five years ago, in 2008, South Africa had 17 922 practising attorneys. Nearly half of these, at 47%, were white men. 22% were black men and following closely, 21% were white women. A mere 10% of practising attorneys were black women.

The statistics show a very gradual shift towards representivity, however with official statistics indicating that black women make up nearly 47% of the population, it seems highly improbable that the demographics of the profession will match those of the population in our lifetimes unless something changes rather drastically.

Much focus has been placed on the admissions policies of universities as a solution to the challenges, however mere possession of a law degree is insufficient to guarantee entry into and sustained, successful practice in the legal profession. More soul-searching within the profession is needed to explore why, in 2013, the profession does not attract and maintain greater numbers of women and black professionals.