Hello, we’re baaackk! Happy new year! W are starting off the year with an interview with a phenomenal woman in law Rhulani Nkomo
Rhulani Nkomo’s main areas of expertise are banking and finance law – in particular acquisition finance, leverage finance, general banking and finance, preference share financing, cross border finance. Her more recent experience includes general corporate work, construction law, disputes and regulatory work which she has been doing in her current job as head of legal of a property developer.
Below is our interview with the phenomenal woman in law!
What inspired you to study law?
I have always wanted to study law – growing up I wanted to be a judge or neurosurgeon
and I guess the law one.
You are a former senior associate at Taylor Wessing LLP, a law firm based in
London. As a South African lawyer, how did you do the conversion, if any, from
SA attorney to UK barrister? What is the process like?
I didn’t convert. I went over as a South African law attorney and my signature read
“South African Qualified”. I was in banking and finance and we used standardized
documents (as base documents) drafted by the Loan Market Association (“LMA”).
Banking lawyers usually find the move to other jurisdictions easier as it is more
transactional and involves drafting contracts and negotiations, which are generally the
same. The differences are mainly in the kinds of security granted in each jurisdiction.
SA Attorneys can get a second qualification and become qualified in English law but
they have to write the QLTS now called the SQE (Solicitor Qualifying Exam).
What advice would you give to a South African lawyer aiming for an international
I would recommend that they practice banking and finance (as that skill is more easily
transferable) or even corporate commercial – basically the more transactional
disciplines, although you can still move in other disciplines. I would also recommend
that they move to London, United States or wherever else they would like to go earlier in
their career rather than later.
How did you go from practice to in-house, was this a plan that you always
envisioned for yourself?
It wasn’t a plan I had. A director that I knew recommended me to his client who was
looking for someone to head up their legal department and that’s how I ended up in-
Please tell us about Women4GirslSA
It’s a non-profit organisation I am part that empowers young girls in tertiary. We run a 3-
year programme which involves:
In first year – adapting to university life and computer literacy
In second year – pairing the girls with professional mentors in their fields of study
In third year – preparing them for the working world through CV writing, interview skills
and financial literacy workshops.
We also host exam destressers before exams and an annual camp, which is the
highlight of the programme for most of our mentees.
That’s a summary.
As a black woman in law, have you experienced gender and race-related bias?
Please tell us about the challenges, if any, that you have faced.
Plenty challenges lol. Being undermined, ignored, subtle ways of exclusion like “being
forgotten” off emails or meeting invites.
What does being an alpha female mean to you and would you describe yourself
Hmmm. I had to google that one so I don’t quite know would it means to me yet. But
based on google “a powerful and successful woman, often in a leadership role” and
“she is talented, highly motivated, and self-confident”. Based on that yes I would
consider myself an alpha female though I wouldn’t say I am intimidating.
Do you identify as a feminist? (Why/why not)
Yes I do. I am very pro women and uplifting other women and empowering them to be
or do whatever they would like to do.
What does woman empowerment mean to you?
Women representation in leadership and decision-making positions, women being able
to choose what they would like to do with their bodies, careers and lives. Women
empowerment also means a safer world for women; one where we aren’t afraid to walk
alone (during the day or at night) or just be.
The journey of most legal professionals is not always easy. What are some of the
lessons you have learned along the way and how have they shaped your outlook
You have to be resilient. Another lesson I learnt was to prioritise your own development
however you can. Money will come, but good training and experience is more important,
especially as a junior. If you have good training, the money will definitely come later.
People also respond to interest, show interest and initiative.
What is the best advice you would give to a woman in law?
I honestly don’t know hey. I guess it’s that it will be tough but don’t let them change you
or steal your joy.
What attributes do you think every young lawyer must have?
I don’t think there is a one size all. Interest and initiative are important, as mentioned
before but I think the key is to be yourself.
What recent change/amendment in the law has caught your attention? (Do you
agree with the change? Why/why not)
The declaration by the High Court that the Copyright Act is unconstitutional on the basis
that it doesn’t extend equal protection to the sighted and unsighted/visually impaired. If I
photocopy a book for study purposes it could qualify as an exemption under the
Copyright Act however if a blind person converted that same book to braille, also for
study purposes, that would not fall within the ambit of the exemptions and would result
in a breach of the Copyright Act. Yes – I agree with it as I think it will make works under
copyright more accessible to the visually impaired.
Our world is constantly changing, in your opinion, what are some of the challenges that legal professionals will face in future?
I think with the everchanging world, legal professionals have to stay relevant and well
versed in the matters that affect and will affect clients and societies. I think the
landscape around cryptocurrency, its regulation, trading/farming and whatever other
issues arise from that will pose challenges – it may not necessary be a challenge in the
negative sense but rather a challenge as something to adapt to or learn about.
As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How
do you meet other professionals and what are some of your effective networking
I attend events when I can. As a more junior practitioner I used to register to attend all
kinds of events and pass out my card at every opportunity. Now I realise that networking
is simpler than we make it out to be – and certain discussions with friends or people you
meet at a braai can count as networking. Networking is also a lifelong assignment; you
don’t network once and then never do it again. You will always have to network,
whether it converts into a business opportunity or client is a different story. Some of the
things that I think are effective networking tools are: (1) Have an understanding of
politics and current affairs; (2) Know a bit about sports (F1 and cycling are quite popular
at the moment); (3) Don’t put pressure on yourself to sell yourself; (4) Nurture the
relationship; (5) Be yourself (that’s the most important one).
What does the term “role model” mean to you? Is there a particular woman in
your life that you consider a role model?
A role model is someone I look up to and admire. Yes I have several – some are peers,
some older, some younger.
What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life?
The Five Love Languages – it was quite an eye opener. Prime Suspect by Lynda La
Plante. It didn’t influence my life in the way you’d think. It was the first book of hers that I
read, and I loved it – it got me back into reading. Also, because it’s the murder mystery
genre it has helped me become more observant and more detective-like in considering
What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
How do you remain autonomous while working in the legal field?
I just take things one day at a time and try be as much of my authentic and present self
as possible. Sometimes I conform to, look like or sound like the “typical lawyer” and
sometimes I don’t. As long as I am comfortable with who I am that’s what counts. It’s
also not such a bad thing being a lawyer. Also have hobbies and interests outside of law
that you enjoy – that helps. I read, DIY and scuba dive.
What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers
or law students?
I am very serious, intentional and passionate about mentoring young lawyers and law
students – less so law students but I did quite a bit of mentoring them in the beginning.
How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)
Rhulani Nkomo – Linkedin