For Women in Law

About a year ago, while browsing my twitter timeline, I came a across a tweet about a young woman who had recently obtained an LLM, and naturally I became captured by the tweet and the woman, so I took it upon myself to do a little bit more research about the phenomenal woman in law. Her name was Sinako Bomela.

From humble beginnings in Colesberg, a small city in the Northern Cape, to the Constitutional Court. Sinako Bomela’s journey is quite an interesting one. She completed her LLB degree at the University of Free State and was the only black, female and youngest Masters graduate at her summer graduation. After completing her studies, she was appointed as a law researcher to deputy chief justice Zondo at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the highest court in the land.  She is a proud founder of the Sinako We Can Movement, where she uses her access to the Constitutional Court as a platform to empower others.Sinako We Can is a project aimed at acquainting law students with the law researcher programme of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, as well as the opportunities available for aspiring legal professionals.Sinako We Can does not only assist in building the confidence of aspiring professionals, but it is a project that also fosters an effective networking platform for law student and legal professionals. I got the opportunity to meet and interact with jugde Kathree-Setiloane, who also started out as a law researcher at the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Through this initiative I have not only gained myself a mentor, but also an older sister-figure. Sinako’s warmth and humility makes it so much easier to talk to and confide in.Sinako has managed to successfully grow her brand as a phenomenal woman in law by effectively using social media and through Sinako We Can where her passion comes alive. Her story and advice in this interview confirms that Sinako is definitely a phenomenal woman in law to look out for. She has proven that hard work and determination can get one very far and it was such an honour to have her take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions about her journey and what the future holds for this phenomenal woman.

Sinako Bomela’s qualifications and achievements:

  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • McKinsey & Co Next Generation Women Leaders Top 10

What inspired you to study law?

SB:My own personal encounter with injustice at the small town in which I was born, Colesberg, inspired me to study law. From the simple obstacles that prevent one from filing papers because of lack funds, the inability to read, write and articulate in the languages dominant in legal forums, or the irony of being both too poor for legal representation and too rich for legal aid which are some of the challenges I have come across led me to commit myself at an early age, to work towards change. Per Former Chief Justice Puis Langa, “the theme of law and poverty has particular resonance to me, and to those of us who have battled poverty in various ways and at a number of terrains.”

FWIL:As a young 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?

SB:Gender bias in the legal profession is a thing and it is real. Women have to work twice as hard to simply be acknowledged and for their work to be taken seriously. We have to work twice to simply be heard. This is also reflected in the briefing patterns, where we see less women arguing before Judges, I don’t think its because men make better advocates than women but that the gender bias is so deeply entrenched that we still need to fight our way into the spaces that were once considered to be made for men.

FWIL:Tell us about your project, SINAKO WE CAN, What was the inspiration behind it and how it aims to empower aspiring legal professionals in South Africa?

SB:Having come from nothing to something, I wanted to use my platform at the Constitutional Court more than just to fulfill my own career goals but to empower others by exposing them to opportunities they can partake in to realize their aspirations in hope that this will effectively contribute to the Constitutional project, to transform the judiciary. Most importantly to groom the next generation of leaders and to affirm that one can come from nothing to something.

FWIL:Being the youngest and only black female at UFS, at the time, to complete a Master’s degree in Constitutional Law, How do you think that has affected your journey to where you are today?

SB:Although this was a great achievement, when I stood as the only black female and youngest at our summer graduation I realized that years into our democracy there is still much that still needs to be done to bring about the much fought for change in institutionsand our country as whole.What this achievement has done for those who like myself, come from nothing, is to encourage resilience and affirm that we can overcome, triumph and become great. When you see someone from the same circumstances succeed it makes your own aspirations seem achievable. This is also what I took from how I was celebrated by my black community, which in turn made me realize that I have an important role to play towards change – which is one of the reasons I started the Sinako We Can project.

FWIL:In a field where a most law graduates are working towards advocacy, why did you choose legal research and how did that pave the way for where you find yourself today?

SB:Funny enough, I did not choose legal research – it was fate that prevailed. We are only taught about advocacy and serving articles after we complete our studies, and that is what I initially set my heart to. I learnt about the Constitutional Court research programme from my sister’s friend, who thought I’d be fitting for the role. After doing my own research about the role of a legal researcher, I was convinced it was exactly what I wanted to do and I applied.Working closely with Judges has given me an entirely different outlook on the law and my aspirations. In having realized my potential and the powerful impact of the platforms that I have been given I constantly ask “what more can I do to generate change and to develop my capabilities regarding how I can have a greater impact in the society?” and this has paved way to where I find myself today.

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?

SB:Although it is great to be recognized and applauded, it is also important not to fall for the illusion of applause and recognition. They are not the meaning of life. Being something or someone is not dependent on others saying you are. Therefore, do not beat yourself up when you do not get the recognition that you deserve – soar on regardless and always strive to be the best that you can be. The right people will notice and the correct doors will be opened.

FWIL:What is the best advice you would give to aspiring legal professionals?

SB:I’d tell them that it is true when they say “the grass is greener where you water it”, their journey into the legal profession will be what they make it to be and it has already started. They should make use of all opportunities that come their way, take part in internship programs and build a profile for themselves, this will benefit them in future. I would also advise them to never box themselves, be open to learn and don’t take yourself too seriously.

FWIL:As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network as your network could define your net worth. How do you meet other legal professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?

SB:When you’re in the profession it gets harder to go out as much as you’d like because of busy schedules, and therefore it becomes important to be able to know how to make use of the opportunities within your disposal such as your colleagues who in turn could possibly introduce you to their network. Social media has also become an effective way to build one’s network. Being humanness is key. Know how to treat people and ask yourself if you were someone else, would you want to network with yourself? Also know how to communicate effectively and remember first impressions do last.

FWIL:What does the term “role model” mean to you? Which phenomenal woman in law would you call your role model?

SB:To me it means someone I can look up to and think “I’d love to be like you one day”, not only because of what they have achieved but who they truly are. I consider the Former Justice of the Constitutional Court, Justice Nkabinde my role model. She has broken barriers and has achieved so much and yet she is the most humane human being I’ve ever met.

FWIL:You have achieved so much success. What is in store for Sinako in the future?

SB:Only God knows.

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