Women in Law Interview – Tebello Kutoane

Tebello Kutoane is an attorney and founder of Collective Intelligence (Pty) Ltd, a legal consulting firm which provides affordable and practical legal solutions for small to medium-sized businesses.

“I want to create a platform where a black, female attorney can be judged on merit and not what she can do for a company’s BEE rating. Young women need to be fierce in pursuing their dreams, they must be bold and take giant leaps of faith. There is more pain in regret than trying and failing.”

Tebello is also a volunteer for an NGO called Lady Liberty. The organization provides free legal advice to marginalized women and children who are victims of domestic violence with the aim of giving these groups access to the justice system.

I met Tebello about a year ago during an interview at Lady Liberty, I was extremely moved by her warmth and kindness. During the interview, Tebello took some time to give me legal and career advice, which I continue to apply to this very day. This phenomenal woman is definitely a sister in law looking out for other sisters in law. Below is the ever so inspiring interview between For Women in Law (FWIL) and Tebello Kutoane (TK), verbatim.

FWIL: What inspired you to study law?
The real reason is that I am bad with numbers and my mother was not too keen on me pursuing a career in acting. I initially wanted to study drama. I chose law because I imagined that it would give me a similar platform to acting (this was definitely fuelled by American shows which depicted intense and dramatized court scenes).

FWIL: As a black woman in law, would you say that gender bias in the legal field is real? What has been some of your observations in this regard?
Absolutely, starting my own company was heavily backed by the fact that I was frustrated in my job and mostly in the legal profession being male and pale. I have always felt that Black women in the profession are undermined and more often than not they are afforded “opportunities of convenience” i.e. only employed so that a company can obtain better BEE ratings. Without touching too much on direct/ personal experiences, I recall many times during articles when my seniors would be condescending towards me and more accommodating of my white counter-part(s). I specifically remember being given fewer instructions than a white counter-part who still needed to complete her final year modules… I had had my degree for one year at the time.

FWIL: More women are now venturing into male-dominated territories, and it’s beautiful to witness. In order to continue to witness more of these audacious and passionate women entering these fields, we need to support each other. This is not always the case, however. What advice would you give to a young woman entering the work environment and who is facing black-balling and “hate” from older/senior women in the work place?
This is a topic dear to my heart because women are already fighting “wars” against men, against race, against unequal pay… the list is endless. When there is one more person to turn to, being another woman, that woman is not willing to help her because her insecurities tell her that if she helps another woman, that woman will do better than her or in a corporate environment “will steal her job”. Women need to understand that empowering another woman does not rob them of their own strengths. Healthy competition is good and there is room for every single woman to prosper, to learn and to pass the baton to those who follow. I believe there is a duty for each one of us to teach another woman the skills that we learn in our respective careers or everyday life. We should be appreciative of the fact that women face more battles than any other race or gender. My advice to young women is that they should not dim their ambitions because of the fear of rejection of assistance by another woman. Young women need to be fierce in pursuing their dreams, they must be bold and take giant leaps of faith. There is more pain in regret than trying and failing.

FWIL: You are the founder of the legal consultancy firm, Collective Intelligence, what motivated or inspired you to venture into entrepreneurship?
I literally took a leap of faith, but the main reason is that I wanted to build a platform where women in the legal profession can be recognized for their merits and not be hindered by the colour of their skin and/or their gender.

FWIL: The journey of most legal professionals is not always an easy one. What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way and how have they shaped your outlook on life?
First thing, especially during articles, realise that you are there to learn. Do not take anything personally and make notes of all the aspects of law that you are in love with so that you can find your niche within the profession. Absorb everything you can because there is no price to your intellect, and each experience equips you for the next chapter in your life/career development. The most important thing is to never speak ill of your employer on social media because I have seen graduates lose their jobs over careless posts. I personally believe that every bad experience I faced has taught me exactly what I want to avoid one day when my company has a larger workforce, so no bad experience is in vain.

FWIL: What is the best advice you can give to aspiring legal professionals?
Always approach your modules with an open mind and do not allow the experiences of previous students demotivate you. The legal profession is tough, but so are you. Listen to instructions properly and be cautious when providing anyone with legal advice because the integrity of the profession, and your own integrity is of paramount importance.

FWIL: As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How do you meet other legal professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?
Most of my existing network is from university. Every other good contact has stemmed from that university network. I have also met phenomenal people on social media, through my company and through social circles in general. I always make it a point to tell new people what I do for a living because more often than not people need a level of legal assistance at some point in their lives and I aim to be their preferred “Sister in Law” (that’s my effective networking skill).

FWIL: Tell us about Bring’n’Network, and how you hope to reach millennials using this networking platform.
I will always love how Bring’n’Network came about. My main business (Collective Intelligence) was in its first year of trading, and one thing that I knew for sure I had to do was to effectively network in order to meet new clients. The downside was that I was always broke and every single networking event would cost around R400 – R1000 essentially. I then tweeted “it would be great if we had a networking platform where will all bring our own dish as most costs for these networking sessions go towards food” (paraphrasing). The feedback I received was overwhelming, and instantly the idea came to life. The first event was hosted in October, and in December I hosed a charity networking event. The next event will be in June, I am in the process of putting it together before going official about it towards the end of May. My intentions are that this platform becomes an inexpensive way for millennials to engage about challenging issues they face in their everyday lives whether it be personal, in business or in their respective careers. I want the platform to give rise to long lasting friendships, business relationships and effective collaborations.

FWIL: You are also a member of Wanawake Bookclub, how can other bibliophiles also become a part of (or members) of this Book club that focuses on woman empowerment?
At the moment there is one branch which has reached capacity (15 members) the meetings are based in Sandton. The good news is that we are expanding and opening another branch in Preoria at the end of July. Xoli Nzama (the Founder) will continue heading Sandton and I will attend to heading the Pretoria branch. There are so many plans ahead of the year for the growth of the book club, plans which definitely aim to widen our reach by empowering women from impoverished backgrounds. Having more members will ensure that we are able to reach our objectives as a collective and empower women who are in desperate need of genuine and compassionate assistance from women.

FWIL: What does the term “role model” mean to you? Which phenomenal woman in law would you call your role model?
A role model is someone who I can use as a guide for the type of person I want to become and exceed. The person must have the same principles/moral compass as myself and they should be vigorous in the manner that they pursue their goals. A role model is also someone who gives back to the community at all times and remembers that a passion for people will always be important. I look up to women who aim to serve in their roles, and I look up to women who are confident enough to know that pursuing their goals with integrity is fulfilling.Hmm, I definitely look up to Mme Thuli Madonsela, she is so grounded in her convictions and she is not swayed by public opinion, even post her position as Public Protector.
Tebello’s passion is the key ingredient that makes her inspiring to any young woman in law. Her passion and focus on the empowerment of women through compassionate acts and other effective initiatives definitely makes her one of our favourites leading women in law.You can connect with Tebello on Twitter and/or Instagram: @bellz_kutoane


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