Tefo Tlale participated in debating in high school and enjoyed the rigour of using ideas and arguments to advance a particular point of view. He also saw law as a tool for advancing social justice and decided to enrol for a law degree at the University of the Witwatersrand.
He completed his time as a candidate attorney at Bowmans, before becoming an acting senior legal officer at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). He completed his pupillage earlier this year, and is an advocate at the National Bar Council of South Africa.
“Being at the SAHRC provided me with an opportunity to develop my skills in human rights and constitutional law,” he says. “I have now set up my own practice at the Bar where I can serve society in my work. My aim is to create a culture of human rights in South Africa through my work as an advocate by facilitating access to justice and making human rights become a practical reality that ordinary people can enjoy on a daily basis.
“It is the simple things like water, electricity, sanitation that give people dignity. Seeing a pensioner have her electricity reconnected, a disabled child having access to a public cinema, helping a homeless person or a victim of abuse find emergency shelter, getting travel documents for a refugee. All these things are what human rights are about, and I believe that my work is incomplete until all people enjoy these basic rights.”
Tlale believes that transformation of the legal profession should not just be about the racial and gender make-up of the profession. It is also about ensuring that every person in society has access to justice and can enjoy the full benefit of their rights regardless of their position in society. The future of the profession should be orientated towards increasing access to justice and removing barriers to entry that may be outdated and exclusionary.
“Being a young black person in the legal profession requires one to be persistent and continuously excellent,” Tlale says. “Seniority is highly valued and as a black junior advocate one often has to work hard to dispel stereotypes and presumptions about one’s competence. “Whether one is dealing with senior lawyers or senior officials, it is important to remain focused and consistent — it is the only way to overcome ‘pretender’s syndrome’. I believe that as long as one strives for excellence, it does not matter how junior you are or which bar you belong to — the results always speak for themselves,” he says.
— Kerry Haggard