WOMAN IN LAW INTERVIEW WITH RORISANG MZOZOYANA

Welcome to another #womaninlaw interview. This month we chat with Rorisang Mzozoyana, who is an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa with over 14 years’ legal experience. Rorisang experienced Senior Legal Counsel with extensive local and international experience in Banking and Finance Law, Property Law and Coporate Law.

She completed her articles at Bowmans in 2009. And in 2011 she moved to New York for 18 months where she worked for a Global Corporate Law Firm called Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton which was a life changing experience for her. She got to work on finance deals with some of the biggest corporations on Wall Street and on her return to South Africa she worked for Norton Rose Fulbright before moving to one of the big SA Banks as Senior Legal Counsel – Vice President. Rorisang’s area of practice is Property Finance and she advises on commercial property finance transactions across South Africa and the rest of the continent.

Rorisang has published a number of legal articles in online and hardcopy media including Business Day, Moneyweb, Without Prejudice, Asset Publishing, Linked-In and on her blog “Of Counsel”. She was featured on the cover of the September 2020 issue of the digital property magazine Provocate and has facilitated, moderated and/or presented at seminars, workshops and webinars hosted by big law firms and banks in New York and South Africa.

FWIL:

Please provide your full name, qualification and area of expertise.

RM:

Name: Rorisang Mzozoyana

Qualifications: BA LLB (Rhodes University), LLM (Wits)

Practice area: Banking and Finance Law with a focus on Property Finance

FWIL:

What inspired you to study law?

RM:

I read a lot as a child and when the time came to choose what to study in University it seemed like the right fit.

FWIL:

Please tell us about your law journey and how you landed in commercial property finance as a Legal Counsel.

RM:

After University I completed my articles at Bowmans. After 4 years at Bowmans I had the opportunity to go to New York for 18 months on the Visiting Lawyer Program which is run by the Cyrus Vance Center of the New York City Bar. Through the program I got to work at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton which is a global corporate law firm. My area of focus at Cleary was finance law and I had the opportunity to work with a number of “Wall Street” clients. I then returned to South Africa and worked for Norton Rose Fulbright as a Senior Associate in the Banking and Finance team in Johannesburg and Cape Town where I predominantly focused on Property Finance. After 4 years I went inhouse as Senior Legal Counsel for one of the big banks in SA which is my current position.

FWIL:

What is commercial property finance, what does the field entail?

RM:

Commercial Property Finance involves the provision of financing to clients for purposes of investing in or developing commercial property such as hotels, shopping centres, residential developments etc.

FWIL:

What advice would you give to a South African lawyer aiming for an international legal career?

RM:

Due to legal restrictions and qualification requirements it will be difficult to have an international career as a litigator unless you write conversion exams for another jurisdiction in which you would like to practice. It is much easier to find opportunities to work overseas as a commercial lawyer. With that in mind you must be commercially aware and keep up to date with industry developments by reading widely on finance and business in South Africa and globally. That way you will build an international mind set. 

Having a commercial or finance qualification from a South African or International University will also help in opening up international working opportunities.

Finally networking in person or on online platforms like Linked In will also assist in this regard.

FWIL:

You have worked for a leading global corporate law firm in New York, how did you do the conversion, if any, from a SA lawyer to a US (New York) lawyer? What was the process like?

RM:

I did not do any conversion as I went to New York through a special program called the South African Visiting Lawyer Program which is run by the Cyrus R Vance Centre of the New York City Bar Association. I went through a rigorous application and interview progress to be chosen (with 3 other applicants) for that year.

FWIL:

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.

RM:

Yes I have. I have experienced the usual being side-lined on projects, not being given any training, not being taken to client meetings after having pulling all nighters on matters etc. I feel like the majority of black female lawyers have gone through similar experiences.

FWIL:

What does being an alpha female mean to you and would you describe yourself as one?

RM:

This is a tricky one. This seems to be an oxymoron to me as being an “alpha” is usually associated with masculinity and I personally associate more with typical female traits of collaboration and empathy. There is strength in these latter traits and I associate more with them than being an “alpha female” in any capacity including in leadership positions.

FWIL:

Do you identify as a feminist? (Why/why not)

RM:

Yes I do because I believe in political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.

FWIL:

What does woman empowerment mean to you?

RM:

It means treating women equally and fairly.

FWIL:

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 on life?

RM:

I learnt too late that you are in charge of your own career and that if you don’t take charge of it early on then you will either be left behind or others will use you to further their own agendas. You need to have a clear road map of what you want to achieve and where you want your career to go. Put blinkers on and don’t spend any of your time on anything that does not further your own goals.

FWIL:

What is the best advice you would give to a woman in law?

RM:

You’ll never beat men at being a man and as such don’t even try to adopt typical masculine characterises just to fit in. You can still be feminine and wear that pink suite to work and lead with empathy, collaboration and co-dependence.

FWIL:

What attributes do you think every young lawyer must have?

RM:

Diligence, tenacity and a willingness to learn.

FWIL:

What recent change/amendment in the law has caught your attention? (Do you agree with the change? Why/why not)

RM:

On 1 February 2022 President Ramaphosa announced the commencement of the Property Practitioners Act (PPA) which is expected to bring significant changes to the property sector. Some of these changes include the following:

  • Practitioners will now be referred to as Property Practitioners, Candidate Property Practitioners and Principal Property Practitioners instead of Estate Agents.
  • All practitioners are required to have a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate , a valid tax clearance certificate and a BEE certificate at the time of a transaction.
  • The Act establishes the Property Practitioner Regulatory Authority (PPRA), which will serve as the new governing body that aims to transform the property industry and protect property consumers. 

I welcome the promulgation of the PPA as it has a number of protections for consumers and it will streamline the property sector.

FWIL:

Our world is constantly changing, in your opinion, what are some of the challenges that legal professionals will face in future?

RM:

Just knowing the law will not get you far as a lawyer! That is if you do not supplement your legal knowledge with other crucial complementary skills such as commercial acumen, being comfortable with technology, leadership, emotional intelligence and written and verbal communication, amongst others.  
✔ Once you pass a certain level of competence the only thing that will set you apart from other legal practitioners are your unique non-law skills. The key to success is therefore understanding when acquiring a complimentary skill will be more helpful in the long run than digging deeper into your primary legal skill set.

✔You need to stack up your skills and then connect and deploy them in ways that are unique to you and make you stand out. For example if you’re a lawyer who also understands tech you can develop an app that solves a legal problem. Or if you’re a finance lawyer who can read financial statements and has a tax degree you can also advise your client in relation to the tax implications of a finance transaction as well structuring the transaction from a business perspective.

✔There are various versions of skill stacking such as becoming a T-shaped, O-shaped or Delta Lawyer. All of these concepts more or less capture the same sentiment. Your legal skills are not enough to make you succeed – you need to be open to learning and acquiring other skills.

✔In the words of Brian Herbert “The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”

FWIL:

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 skills?

RM:

I am very active on Linked In and I use that platform and Instagram a lot to network. I however strengthen the relationships built on social media by taking them off line and either inviting people I meet on social media to be guests on my podcast, I message them directly for coffee meet ups (in person or online), or I invite them to join my monthly online sessions. Now that we are slowly seeing the return of in person events I will start attending in person networking events.

FWIL:

What does the term “role model” mean to you? Is there a particular woman in your life that you consider a role model?

RM:

A role model for me is someone who is true to themselves and gives more than they take. My biggest role model is my Mom. She came from humble beginnings but she did not let that define her. She went back to University after having kids and ended up with 3 degrees and she went on to run a number of successful businesses while raising kids.  

FWIL:

What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life?

RM:

I love reading but I regrettably do not have time for it since I have to juggle my day job, my mentorship and public speaking activities through my company Of Counsel (Pty) Ltd and motherhood. I am obsessed with podcasts though and I learn as much from them as I would from books. The podcasts that I am currently binging are the following:

Doing Law Differently by Lucy Dickens

Diary of a CEO – by Steven Bartlett

Young and Profiting (YAP) – by Hala Tala

I would of course also recommend by own Podcast called “Law etc.”.

FWIL:

What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra

RM:

Give more than you take!

FWIL:

How do you remain autonomous while working in the legal field?

RM:

You gain autonomy in the legal sector as you get more senior which has really helped as I have 3 little girls and flexibility and autonomy has become more important for me as my career has progressed. I have been lucky that I haven’t had to go back to the office since lock down which really helps in juggling my busy work schedule and motherhood.

FWIL:

What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers or law students?

RM:

I am a firm believer in mentorship and I am totally open to it. I get a lot of requests to be a mentor however due to time constraints I cannot mentor anyone one on one. I have as such started monthly group mentorship sessions which are held on the first Saturday of every Month. I usually address questions that the mentees have specifically asked (and most of the questions are similar) or I invite guests to address a specific topic. Anyone can join the mentorship sessions by forwarding me their email address via Linked-In or Instagram.

I have also recently been honoured to be invited to join the inaugural Circle of Mentors which is a program aimed at Advancing Women in the Workforce and is run by the Cyrus R Vance Center of International Justice which is a non profit program of the New York City Bar Association. I will be sharing further details about the Program on my social media pages soon.

FWIL:

How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)

RM:

Linked In – Rorisang Mzozoyana

Facebook – Rorisang Mzozoyana

Instagram – @rori_legalcounsel

Tik Tok – @rori_legalcounsel

Website – www.ofcounsel.co.za

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