Lawyers. Picture: REUTERS
Lawyers. Picture: REUTERS

The Law Society of SA’s decision to void a set of attorneys’ admission examinations, which will force thousands of candidates to re-write, has turned into a public relations nightmare.

One of its member bodies, the Black Lawyers Association of SA, has slated its decision to call for the nationwide re-writing of the four compulsory exams after Paper 3, which was written on August 15, had been found to be leaked.

The Law Society sets four exams, which all candidate attorneys in the country write during their two years of professional articles. Once a candidate passes all four exams, they obtain certificates of proof from the society and can then be admitted as attorneys in court. They can then join the roughly 24,000 attorneys working in the country.

The society, which is the country’s main legal regulator has, since 1998, represented the attorneys’ profession by bringing together its six constituent members in a national, non-statutory body.

As members attorneys pay annual fees to the society and must deliver ethics audits. Because the society is not a statutory body, it does not hold any bearing over the Attorneys Act of 1979.

The Black Lawyers Association of SA, whose 10,000 members include an array of legal professionals and not just attorneys, released a statement on Tuesday in which it said the society was not allowed to overturn examinations, in terms of the act.

All attorneys are supposed to register with at least one of four provincial law societies in terms of the act, in order to practise law in the applicable province.

"The Law Society of SA is not the regulator of the attorney’s profession under the Attorney’s Act. Under the circumstance [it] cannot decide whether examinations must be rewritten or not. This is the function of the provincial law societies. The [society] may only implement what the provincial law societies may have advised," the association said.

The association also said the society had failed to consult its six constituent members and that it had acted recklessly when it sent messages to qualified and prospective lawyers across the country, telling them that all four exams were jeopardised and that rewriting would have to take place on unspecified dates in October.

The society’s messages followed those sent by the Law Society of the Northern Provinces on Thursday, which said that only Paper 3: Attorneys Practice/Ethics had been leaked.

The association said it had not been consulted by the society over the rewriting of examinations. It called for an urgent meeting with the society so that it "may understand the extent of the problem and possible solutions".

"In light of the above we call upon you to withdraw the statement and the texts sent to the candidate attorneys advising them about the envisaged rewriting of the admission examination until further notice, pending the above proposed meeting," the association said. "We are concerned that the decision to issue this statement was not well considered as it has the potential to jeopardise the society’s chances of being trusted by the Legal Practice Council on private issues."

andersona@businesslive.co.za