This month we chat to admitted attorney, Marlene Brits, who is also director at Marlene Brits Attorneys. Marlene holds an LLB degree from the University of South Africa. I first connected with Marlene on linkedIn after I read about the less traveled road she took on her journey to become an attorney. While studying towards her LLB degree, Marlene also served her Articles of Clerckship for a period of 5 years. The position has changed, but in the past, the Legal Practice Act made provision for those students who were still completing their LLB studies to either enter into a five-year contract of articles or three year contract of articles (if they had obtained a three-year undergraduate degree).
Marlene’s story stood out to me because I had never actually met anybody who had taken that route. I instantly connected with her and a few months later, while working at the deeds office, we met formally and she has been one of the women who have helped me (directly and indirectly) navigate the chaos of that office.
FWIL: What inspired you to study law?
MB: I started working as an assistant in Pretoria Deeds Office in 2012 and sometimes clients from my then principal would come into the Deeds Office for their matters or to drop off documents. Their expressions of gratitude was always something that struck a cord with me and that is when I realised that law does change lives and that was my biggest inspiration to enrol and start studying in 2013.
FWIL: How did you manage to complete your 5-year Arcticles of Clerkship, while also pursuing your LLB degree?
MB: My parents were not in a position to assist me or contribute towards my studies when I decided to start studying. So I proceeded to apply for a Student loanStudying part time and working full time is really not easy. I think only those who also do it themselves really understand. You have a long and stressful day at work and in the evenings you have to take the last bit of energy to study or do assignments. Weekends are the only actual time you have to properly study but then you also just want to rest on weekends. Having that discipline to choose between loafing around or staying on track with studies was also hard. On weekends your friends are social or go to parties but you can’t always go because you know it will affect your next day’s schedule. One misses a lot of other important family events as well due to studying. Sometimes felt like life was really passing me by. I think what kept me going is my drive to just finish what I started and ultimately to create a better life for my parents
FWIL: As a woman in law, have you experienced gender bias? Please tell us about the challenges, if any, that you have faced.
MB: I have found that some male clients do tend to be uncertain because I am a female lawyer, whether I am “tough” enough to attend to a case. I have had male clients whom have asked me “How can a little lady like you be tough enough and get the result I want”. I simply smile politely and tell them that it has nothing to do with gender. The instructions are executed accordingly.Furthermore, I think some men in the legal profession are becoming a bit more envious that so many women are in the legal field and the growth of female legal practitioners over the years.
FWIL: What does being an alpha female mean to you?
MB: I think a female who stands up and addresses the needs/issues of her counterparts, who might not necessarily have the access, means or platform to voice and raise the same issues.
FWIL: Do you identify as a feminist? (Why/why not)
MB: Yes, I do consider myself a feminist, for reasons that we as women have been unduly supressed and denied so many things throughout the course of history. I think women have so much more perspective and other insights when it comes to politics and all other important issues in today’s society.
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?
MB: I have learned many lessons in my personal life and career. Personal lessons I would say is never take anything for granted and life can really change in the blink of an eye. During my 3rd year my father had a debilitating stroke which changed our family and financial situation drastically and this opened up my eyes a lot regarding the life we take for granted. I try to make the best of each and every day. Career lessons are that some days may be better than others, but tomorrow is a new day to start over.
FWIL: What is the best advice you would give to aspiring legal professionals?
MB: Focus on your studies, it might seem like a mountain now and that it takes forever to finish, like you are the only one sacrificing almost everything for that degree, but those late nights and early mornings and missing social events, will really pay off.
FWIL:What skills do you think every young lawyer needs to have?MB:Definitely be organised. If your files are not organised you will spend more time looking for important documents than doing actual work.Being timeous. Your time is your biggest commodity.Also, we need to remember that as lawyers, we work with real people. People who have emotions, people that look up to you and entrust you to solve or remedy a problem. Sometimes we wear the hat of a therapist as well. So I think we must remember to be compassionate.
FWIL:As a lawyer with your own firm, what do you think is the key to getting great reviews?MB:The level of service and quality of your work is going to determine your reviews and give you your reputation. Word of mouth amongst satisfied / dissatisfied clients is the most powerful in my opinion.
FWIL:What recent change/amendment in the law has caught your attention? (Do you agree with the change? Why/why not)MB:It is not that recent but it is the 2018 case of Women’s Legal Centre Trust v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others, Faro v Bignham N.O. and Others, Esau v Esau and Others (22481/2014, 4466/2013, 13877/2015)  ZAWCHC 109;  4 All SA 551 (WCC); 2018 (6) SA 598 (WCC) (31 August 2018), which deals with Cape Town High Court which has ordered Government to pass legislation for the recognition of Muslim Marriages, in order to protect Muslim women and children’s rights.
I concur with this judgment, as the need to have Muslim marriages legally recognized is a need of today’s society.
FWIL: The world is constantly changing, in your opinion, what are some of the challenges that legal professionals will face in future?
MB: Technology is beneficial when it is time conscious and improves work and our lives, but state departments (Deeds Registry and the High Court) who want to go electronic in certain aspects of their systems are not in my opinion beneficial. Many people will lose their jobs if everything goes electronic, also when some departments are not even functioning properly and are offline most of the time, what will it be like when it everything goes electronic and you cannot physically access information or speak to a staff member?These challenges will cause more frustration in the legal profession.
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?
MB: Working in the Deeds Office for a few years has fortunately resulted in meeting quite a few legal professionals. I have established a Women’s Legal Networking Whatsapp Group in June 2019, where I have also met a few ladies, but I think one can network anywhere you are – whether it is standing in a queue at the bank or doing shopping – small talk leads to “So what do you do” and that is when the conversation starts.
FWIL: What does the term “role model” mean to you? Which phenomenal woman in law would you call your role model?
MB: Role model would be someone I can learn from and incorporate in my own life. I would say a fellow colleague Mrs Ilizma Quinn fits the description of role model to me. She works hard and despite having so many years of experience, is always eager to know and learn more. Many people in the field loathe being corrected, especially in conveyancing, she is not one of them. I respect her for this a lot. She is also always interested and supportive in whatever her fellow colleagues do.
FWIL: What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life?
MB: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom – by Don Miguel Ruiz
FWIL: What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra
MB: “I suppose there are a lot of reasons to be jaded or sarcastic or bitter in life, but I hang on to the reasons why life is beautiful.” – Kelli O’Hara
FWIL: What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers or law students?
MB: Mentorship in the legal field is vital. Not all young lawyers or students get the necessary exposure they need in order to be equipped for practice. I am very happy and open to assist in the fields I can give exposure to others.
FWIL: How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)
Facebook: @Marlene Brits Attorneys
Linkedin: Marlene Brits