Michael Bishop

Advocate, Legal Resources Centre

Was it watching too many episodes of The Practice that enticed Michael Bishop into the legal profession? Or was it that the law ran in his extended family, with his grandfather being a judge and his godfather an advocate?

Rather, Michael was attracted to the profession’s fusion of systematic, logical thinking and the art of writing and arguing persuasively … and the idea of fighting for justice, or at least preventing injustice.

Michael began his career as a clerk for Chief Justice Pius Langa. He was inspired by Justice Langa’s deep conviction that lawyers have an obligation to use the law to protect the rights of ordinary people.

Currently, he works as an in-house advocate at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), where he specialises in human rights and constitutional law. He represents clients across a range of different areas, including land rights, labour tenant rights, customary law rights, international criminal law, refugees’ rights, gender equality, education and freedom of speech, among others.

“Because the LRC has limited resources, we generally do ‘strategic litigation’,” Michael explains. “We look for cases that will have a wide impact, change the law, and assist as many people as possible to assert their constitutional rights.” For example, he is currently working on an appeal to have a special master appointed to assist the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to process thousands of outstanding labour tenant claims. If it is successful, it will be the first special master appointed by a South African court.

He also teaches constitutional and administrative law, and is the Managing Editor of Constitutional Law of South Africa (the leading textbook on the subject) and the Constitutional Court Review (an annual journal on the Constitutional Court’s cases). He works on both projects with his mentor Prof Stu Woolman.

“My goal is to provide high quality legal representation to those who normally could not afford a lawyer,” Michael explains. “Our legal system is designed to favour rich people (primarily the government and corporations) who can afford the extremely high fees charged by lawyers in private practice. They have excellent access to justice because they can pay an army of lawyers to assert their rights.

“Poor people don’t have that. The result is that those who most need the courts to protect their constitutional rights are the people who are least able to access them. This is a serious and systemic injustice. The great privilege of my job is that I represent clients whose rights have been violated by someone who assumed they would never be able to afford a lawyer.”

— Kerry Haggard

Website: capebar.co.za/advocates/ bishop-michael/