It has been just over a month since my admission as an attorney and I promise you, it is still one of the best things to have ever happened to me. I even walk different now – no lies.
However the difficulty of the journey can not be denied, and here are a few issues I would like to admit about the road to admission:
- Discipline- I think the first thing anyone needs to do to get through university is to have self-discipline. Unfortunately there aren’t any interventions from family and friends that will work unless you make the decision to focus on your studies. Everything that you find at varsity (the freedom and the parties) will still be there after you obtain your degree. Your LLB needs you to focus from day one because if you lose out on the basic principles of law early in the game you are going to battle at the end. Discipline will have you finishing your degree in 4 years. Not only is that emotionally rewarding but financially rewarding too. For me self-discipline was definitely heightened by falling pregnant in first year (kids do not try this at home).
- Support structure: this cannot be underestimated as you will find support in the people you never imagined could support you. I had a few close associates in university. I honestly did not know most of their names until final year, but these were the people I would always find in the library who I knew I could count on to explain principles to me in a comprehensible way. And then there is the support from family, a lot of the time your immediate family wants the best for you, especially if the financial support is coming from your parents/grandparents/aunts – they want the best for you because they want their sacrifices to be converted into something tangible (a degreed scholar who will eventually become a success in their chosen field.) The satisfaction of making them proud cannot be compared and is second only to your satisfaction. University is also where the foundation phase of building your network, which brings me to my next point:
- Networking- I cannot stress the importance of networking enough. If there is an opportunity to introduce yourself and learn something from the next person then do just that. In the very same process another is learning something from you. Do not isolate yourself in university, do not limit yourself to one clique who you move around all day with. Get to know other people outside your faculty- these students will come in handy one day outside of campus, outside of you obtaining your degree. There is no pleasure greater than sending an old varsity connect a message years later saying “hi I remember you studied accounting, are you still in the profession? Can you assist me?” Or “hi I remember you studied fashion design, I have a big event coming up are you able to assist?”. Bottom line, networking in varsity is as important as it is in the working environment.
- Staying focused – towards the end of your undergraduate you will learn that a number of the students in your lectures have already secured articles 1 or 2 years ahead of completing their degree. Do not allow this to make you despondent. Yes it will be October and then November of final year and it will dawn on you that you have not been to a single interview. The panic will kick in and consume you. But the honest and very cliche “own race on pace” is not a myth. Things happen for us at different times. You are still in the race, focus on that. Because along the way your peers could not afford to return to school, along the way your peers became terminally ill, along the way your peers became demotivated and dropped out yet here you are, close to the finish line. So stay focused, everything you are working towards is going to materialize in a matter of time. And when that happens it will not matter that you repeated one module 4 times, when you get admitted and the Judge says “Jane Doe is hereby admitted as an attorney of this court” none of the things that kept you in a panic in former years will matter and you will be proud of yourself nonetheless.
- Going the extra mile- this is particularly important for your first job – whether articles or a graduate program- you have done the time at university but that was only the tip at the iceberg. You are going to meet a spectrum of people who have been in the profession for years (literally since before you were born or people who have been in the profession for as long as your parents have been alive) with this comes a level of arrogance. You will meet people who demand and command respect. These personalities will essentially clash with your free spirited millennial/generation Z self, but you are urged to remember why you are there. The aim is to learn and for as long as you are not judged on your appearance, your background, the colour of your skin, your accent, your sexual orientation you should take whatever treatment you receive with a pinch of salt and keep it moving. In a weird way an overly demanding principal/boss builds perseverance and is equipping you for the next 40-50 years of your life in the profession. I have to stress though, that if the treatment affects the core of your being and crushes your spirit then it’s worth going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out the ultimate direction you wish for your career path to follow. The essence of this point though is that you should block out the distractions and commit to going the extra mile. Be proactive, offer to assist in areas which fall out of your main interests. If you are in a big firm, take an interest in other departments which you’re not allocated to, if you’re in a small firm, take on one extra file in the area of practice which you did not initially have an interest in. Going the extra mile will set you apart from the rest.
- The last stretch – for me this was the most difficult part. Being close, yet far from the “finish” line plays tricks on your emotional well-being. After completing my articles I started doubting whether I am competent enough to remain in the profession and pursue my career further. I have on numerous occasions had this fear (which I later came to learn that it is called the “Imposter Syndrome”) that people will see that I am a fraud. That people will question my competency and in turn I will fail dismally in the profession. I constantly question myself about aspects of the law which I can recite in my sleep and this fear is fueled by the little voice that says “what if after all this sweat, blood and tears you still do not know anything”. I am not sure when I will ever overcome self-doubt and this strange syndrome. But I do know that every morning I have to wake up with a positive outlook on life and constantly remind myself that I am a big deal, I created a position/title for myself which I did not know could exist. I have managed to find creative ways to make the legal profession work for me and through this I continue to empower other women in and outside of the profession. Basically, relax, everything is going to be just fine. The journey has its challenges but you are going to win. You ask “now that you are admitted what is next?” For now I would like to further my studies and eventually specialize in intellectual property. The possibilities and niches in the profession are endless and life is long enough for me to enjoy each adventure ahead of me… I wish you all the best of luck for the balance of your undergrad, your postgraduate, your articles, your internship, your graduate program, each milestone is a step closer to being admitted as an attorney of the HIGH COURT OF SOUTH AFRICA!
Tebello Kutoane is an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa. She is an entrepreneur, the founder and director of Collective Intelligence, a legal consultancy company in South Africa aimed at equipping small to medium businesses with legal services. Tebello is also a founder of the Bring & Network and Sister In Law online publication.