BOWMANS exists to help its clients overcome legal complexities and unlock opportunities in Africa.
Bowmans’ track record of providing specialist legal services, both domestic and cross-border, in the fields of corporate law, banking and finance law and dispute resolution spans over a century.
With 7 offices in 5 African countries and over 400 specialised lawyers, Bowmans draw on its unique knowledge of the business and socio-political environment to advise clients on a wide range of legal issues.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Partner and Head of Employment and Benefits Lusanda Raphulu about her personal and professional journey.
Tell us about your early life, your training and your professional development leading up to your role today.
I have a Bachelor of Social Science from the University of KwaZulu – Natal (majoring in Law, Economics and Marketing), and an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand. I am fully Bowmans bred, having started here with my articles in January 2004, and climbed through the ranks until I made partner in March 2012. I have benefited from various forms of professional development through the years, with Bowmans having several programmes for its young legal professionals.
What was your training like?
As a candidate attorney, you have two years of articles (i.e. on the job training) split into 4 rotations of 6 months each. My first rotation was in the employment law practice group, which needless to say, given where I have ended up, I thoroughly enjoyed. Employment law is inextricably linked to people, and provides a thorough understanding of how the law, business, and individuals are linked. My second rotation was in the project finance practice of our corporate department, followed by six months in our litigation practice. I learned a lot from both these rotations. I was made an offer to permanently join the employment law practice and was asked to do my last rotation there. Following articles I was appointed as an associate, then a senior associate, and ultimately as a partner. During my training, I was exposed to various components of employment law, from legal research, to drafting or reviewing employment contracts and policies, drafting charge sheets, drafting opinions, to transactional support work. The level of responsibility given to me increased as my experience increased, but I always felt properly involved in the matters I was part of, and not left to administrative tasks like endless photocopying. I am fortunate in that Bowmans has many well experienced and highly regarded employment law experts. In my training I felt as though I always had an opportunity to speak up and run my thoughts past a partner. It’s a privilege to be surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, to be able to learn from recognised subject matter experts, and to be able to give that benefit to our clients. Aside from the law, my training taught me many other things, such as professionalism, dealing with difficult situations, and the importance of building and maintaining relationships, both internally and externally.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of Head of Employment and Benefits?
It means that my colleagues trust that I’m cognisant of the needs of our practice group, that I have what it takes to steer us in the direction where both our employees and our clients get the best out of our practice, and that I have the right thinking to take our practice group forward particularly in the current corporate context where the world of work is changing exponentially. This is a big responsibility and one that I take very seriously. I am alive to the push for more black people and more women to be entrusted with leadership positions, and I think it’s fantastic that my colleagues are aware that this is a real need and gap in South Africa. I also know that we have arguably the biggest employment law practice in the country, and this role wouldn’t have been entrusted to me without authentic belief in my ability to execute on my role and take our practice forward accordingly.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term as Head of Employment and Benefits?
Firstly, I want to actively support every employee in the practice group, from secretary to candidate attorney and all the way to senior partner, with what they individually need in order to equip them do their best work – whether it is support with team members, business development, client issues, personal matters etc. I see my role as creating an environment that enables our people to flourish and do what they do best. Secondly, I want each of our clients to be authentically known and understood, and to be serviced in line with their particular needs. Thirdly, I want our practice group to wholly operate in line with present-day employee needs and present-day client needs – from agile working, to increased use of technology, to encouraging diversity and the competitive advantage it brings, to variety in billing methods. Fourthly, I want us to widen and strengthen our footprint as an African practice and I may be biased but I firmly believe that Bowmans has the best African employment practice, and there’s still more to be done.
Have you had any particular challenges as a woman professional that you think differ from your male counterparts? If so, how have you dealt with them?
Each time that I have had a child (I have two wonderful young boys), I went on maternity leave, but I also worked reduced working hours on my return. I know that having children has meant that my career has had (and continues to have) slowdowns that male employees who have children traditionally don’t have to grapple with. I’ve dealt with it by focusing on being a good lawyer, and by believing that being a good lawyer doesn’t mean that I cannot be a mother or that I have to be an absent mother. I’ve insisted on having a full and balanced life, knowing that nothing will stop me from achieving what I want to achieve. I believe that women professionals who have children tackle this in their own best way in their own respective environment, and that hopefully we move towards a more equal society that is not skewed towards women’s careers being the ones that traditionally are mostly impacted by parenting.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
I have a collaborative management and leadership style. I believe in working together rather than issuing instructions, and that this allows the benefit of the knowledge, ideas, and insight of the many intelligent and excellent people that we have. I value every person that I work with, and know there is a lot to be contributed by each of them. Having considered the various views and opinions, as a manager and as a leader I lead us in the direction that I believe best suits us and is most aligned with our strategic goals.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night in relation to your position as Head of Employment and Benefits?
Essentially what I have stated above in respect of what I would like to achieve by the end of my five year term. Time goes by quickly, days easily get busy and fly past. I try to make sure that I keep these goals front of mind.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
I play an active role in mentoring others. I’m part of the firm’s formal mentoring programme. I think we all have a responsibility to make an effort to impart our learnings and experience on others, and assist them on their own professional journeys.
If you had to mention some of your experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
It’s a high working on some of the biggest matters in South Africa, and even globally – it’s always a great feeling to see a matter you’re working on in the press. Making partner was also definitely a high in my career. In respect of the lows, I would say that it is a low when you have an unhappy or dissatisfied client, especially with something that could have been easily avoided, or when it’s something that’s out of your control, such as losing a matter when you’re sure you’re right on the law – thank goodness for appeal processes. Another low is losing good employees, but I understand that the world we live in is such that people are always moving around and as long as an employee leaves on good terms and not because they are unhappy in the firm, you can only wish them the best in their future endeavors and be grateful for the working experience you had with them.
What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?
In respect of the 2019 African Legal Awards, Bowmans has taken home two of the most sought-after awards, cementing its reputation as an African law firm handling some of the most challenging legal work on the continent. The firm won the coveted awards for Technology, Media and Telecommunications Team of the Year and Transportation and Infrastructure Team of the Year.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
Very well. Our biggest growth objective is to expand in Africa, along the jurisdictions where our clients need us most, and where the business demand makes sense for us to go. Excitingly, we are expanding our footprint in Africa and have recently opened an office in Mauritius and concluded an alliance agreement with a firm in Ethiopia. This means that we now provide integrated legal services throughout Africa from 7 offices in 5 countries – South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban), Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania and Uganda.
Through what means does the firm ensure that it maintains a high level of ethics and integrity?
We have an Ethics Committee that ensures that we are always operating at the highest level of ethics and integrity and that we are held to those ethical standards accordingly. As legal professionals, it is also inherent in our role to practice in accordance with the highest standard of ethics and integrity.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?
It is. Traditionally it has been vocalised as important, and it’s a factor in the determination of partner remuneration. There is demand though for more and expedited transformation, both internally and from many of our clients. The firm is constantly looking at the best ways to achieve this.
Kindly highlight some of the recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions that your professionals are a part of.
The firm has a number of on-going initiatives, such as legal clinics, to enable us go into communities and help those without access to legal advice either on-the-spot or, for those cases needing more work, we open a file and carry on with the case on a pro bono basis.
Examples of our work include:
The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – speed mentoring – The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship hosted an insightful speed mentoring session for 20 Liberian entrepreneurs at its Braamfontein campus on 14 March 2016. The aim was for the entrepreneurs (or mentees) to engage with mentors who had a range of business experience. Each mentee presented his or her business case and its challenges.
Thereafter the business challenges and possible ways to resolve them were discussed in a timed mentoring session during which the mentees rotated every five minutes from one mentor to the next. Our lawyers’ expertise in international trade, company, competition and intellectual property law and knowledge of the structures and regulations governing the banking and financial sectors was useful in contextualising the mentees’ issues. They also advised on general business expansion strategies such as the possibilities of franchising.
Deeds Office – supporting a pro bono project – The Cape Law Society and Cape Town Attorneys Association, in consultation with the Registrar of Deeds, established a pro bono office at the Cape Town Deeds Office a few years ago. The aim is to deliver advisory services and assistance on property-related legal issues to those in need. The pro bono office runs daily and is staffed by our qualified conveyancers who volunteer at the clinic.
University of the Western Cape – operating a law clinic – Our Cape Town Office was invited by the Department of Justice to participate in an access to justice week for women’s month in 2015. We manned the University of the Western Cape law clinic for two days while the students were on holiday.
Women’s Legal Centre – providing support in Cape Town and Johannesburg – The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) – a non-profit, independently-funded law centre – was started in 1999 to enable women to use the law to advance their rights to equality. We support the organisation in both Cape Town and Johannesburg as follows:
- Family law helpdesk: We partnered with the WLC to set up and serve the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court Family Law Helpdesk. The WLC entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to make family legal services more accessible with this helpdesk at the Cape Town Family Court. After a successful six-month pilot, we fully adopted the project with lawyers from our Cape Town office servicing the helpdesk two mornings a week.
- Sex worker clinic: We donated furniture and computers to the WLC when it opened its Johannesburg office. And our lawyers assist at the centre with consultations to sex workers – who remain unrecognised as a workforce – with matters of police and domestic violence, harassment and consumer issues.
SASLAW – providing access to justice in the labour court – The South African Society for Labour Law (SASLAW) runs pro bono projects at the labour courts in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Through this project, we help unrepresented litigants with free legal advice and representation in court. We also hosted the launch of the SASLAW Western Cape non-profit company (NPC) at our Cape Town offices in November 2014. The launch saw lawyers volunteering for pro bono duty at the labour court―filling about 80% of the annual roster that day.
Pension Law Clinic: Through referrals from SASLAW, members of our specialised Pension Law team assist pro bono clients with various pension fund claims and disputes.
ISHISHINI LETHU – Small businesses and start-ups can make use of our pro bono corporate legal services through our Ishishini Lethu Project.
PROBONO.ORG – making access to justice available to indigent people
The firm and our professionals are actively involved in the following pro bono clinic, run through PROBONO.ORG:
- Housing clinic: We offer pro bono services to individuals on their housing problems by servicing the Housing Clinic coordinated and hosted by ProBono.org.
- Refugee clinic: We offer pro bono services to refugees by servicing the Refugee Clinic coordinated and hosted by ProBono.org.
- Randburg Magistrate’s Court Domestic Violence Helpdesk: We assist victims of domestic violence by volunteering our services at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court Helpdesk every Tuesday morning.
- One child a year campaign through Pro Bono.Org requesting one lawyer to represent one child per year in Children’s Court proceedings.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
- Set engagement terms that we hold ourselves to in relation to each instruction.
- The firm’s values.
- Continuous strategy sessions and meetings led by our Business Development Team, our Knowledge Management Team for purposes of improving the customer service experience, innovating and staying ahead of the times.
- On-going in-house training for our young professionals, including skills on networking, interactions with clients and professional conduct.
What values do you hold dear and why?
Commitment – commitment to people and commitment to clients. As an attorney and as a human being in general, you can’t do it alone and you must be committed to your people as much as you want them to be committed to you. The same with clients, if you want a client to be committed to you, you must be committed to your clients, and a long-term relationship with such clients. When you’re committed, you do your best, always.
Integrity – there will be many difficult situations. You must grapple with them and still sleep soundly at night, knowing you have acted above board.
Optimism – arrive with and maintain a positive mindset, you’re more likely to succeed if you believe that you will.
Do you think your organisation is a great company to work for? If so, please elaborate in detail what makes it different from others in its field?
Absolutely, I’ve always said, and I maintain, that for as long as I work for a law firm, I will work for Bowmans. Firstly, the calibre of our attorneys is outstanding, we have many recognised industry experts, and no shortage of people to learn from. Aside from that, there are many people that are genuinely good people, and are pleasant to work with and I think it’s important to not only enjoy the work that you do but to like the people that you work with. We genuinely invest in our clients, we believe in long term relationships and this genuine care for and commitment to our clients comes across in the way we conduct ourselves and interact with clients. We work on complicated, interesting, challenging matters – it’s a privilege to work on so many noteworthy matters. We are an African firm, our pride and unique value proposition is in authentically being an African firm – you can’t beat that.
When you are not at work, what do you get up to, including your family life?
I’m married to a fellow attorney, who has reinvented himself into a renewable energy businessman, and we have two young boys – we have an active lifestyle and spend a lot of time outdoors. When I get time alone with my husband we like going out for breakfast or dinner, and taking walks. I am an avid art lover and treasure spending a Saturday morning gallery hopping. I believe in lifelong learning and have taught myself how to knit – on YouTube, and I’ve bought a guitar which I will soon learn how to play.
Where can people follow you online?
LinkedIn is best.