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Lockdown a hard knock for lawyers

Eastern Cape lawyers say the cost of running their practices during lockdown has become too high
LOCKDOWN BLUES: Eastern Cape lawyers say the cost of running their practices during lockdown has become too high

The financial effect of the lockdown on legal practitioners has been devastating, with many fearful that they will never bounce back, even once the restrictions are lifted.

Some advocates and attorneys in the Eastern Cape say it is costing more to keep their doors open at this point and they are despondent about what the future may hold, with the smaller firms taking the hardest knock of all.

Attorney Zolile Ngqeza, who opened his practice in Port Elizabeth in 2007, said this had been the most challenging time of his entire career.

“I am struggling along with everyone else,” Ngqeza, who has represented the likes of Luthando Siyoni, one of the men implicated in teacher Jayde Panaiotou’s hit murder, said.

He said his staff of five were now on rotation and no longer worked five days a week.

He added that criminal trials were not proceeding and lawyers were entirely dependent on the man in the street.

“But with the man in the street suffering financially, it affects us financially. I have had to do some bail applications at reduced rates or pro bono,” he said.

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the Goldfields Circle of Attorneys, 63% of 549 legal practitioners who took part in the questionnaire lost more than 60% of their income during April.

A civil attorney who has been practising for the past seven years said just last week she had considered throwing in the towel.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said she only had one candidate attorney working for her, who had also been placed on short-time.

The Goldfields survey further found that in terms of salaries, 24,4% of law firms were unable to pay any staff salaries, while 40,3% could partially pay, and only 35,3% could pay the full salaries of all their employees.

Civil lawyers were the worst affected.

In Port Elizabeth, the high court has been closed, with only urgent matters proceeding.

A senior advocate in Port Elizabeth, who is not permitted to speak to the media, said his colleagues who specialised in civil law had taken the hardest knock.

“It is true that right now it is costing some advocates more to keep their doors open,” he said, explaining that they were only paid by the attorneys from the client’s money held in a trust account after the trial was concluded.

That, of course, was not happening at present and advocates were, therefore, simply not being paid.



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