If not you, who? If not now, when?
This sums up Stellenbosch University Law Clinic head Theo Broodryk who says to do well in “social justice law”, one has to be genuinely passionate about wanting to make a difference in society - through law
“It is someone who engages clients compassionately and pursues favorable outcomes with a rigorous devotion to excellence.”
And he is the right man for the job.
He has been immersed in law since starting his postgraduate studies at the university. After completing articles and practising as an employment law attorney at ENS, he joined the law faculty in October 2012.
He is now responsible for the day to day running of the law clinic - which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year - and carrying out duties as a senior lecturer.
“I chose law as a career because I was motivated by a desire to make a difference and positive change in society through law. The clinic provides an ideal platform to do so.”
His speciality is “collective redress” - he was the first person in South Africa to do a doctorate on class actions in the country.
He spent time as a visiting scholar at Stanford University in the United States under sponsorship of the leading class action academic globally, Prof Deborah Hensler.
Broodryk has also authored numerous articles in accredited, peer reviewed journals on the South African class action mechanism.
In spite of its name, the “clinic” operates as a fully-fledged attorneys’ office employing 15 staff, including five attorneys and four candidate attorneys who also assist with training final year law students and candidate attorneys.
“It is central to what we do….. And we do it innovatively. For example, we recently started collaborating with Coventry University in the UK where we use robot double technology to train law students.”
But the main work is dealing with poor, marginalised and vulnerable people who turn to the clinic “often as a last resort” to deal with their eviction, family law and civil dispute matters.
Broodryk says between January and September this year, the dedicated team have already assisted more than 1 600 people.
Every case - and every person - counts.
“As a firm, we continuously make a special effort to influence and make a difference to the lives of those individuals who have no other legal recourse, whether it entails that our attorneys visit Kayamandi informal settlement over weekends to educate the community on various legal issues, or through our financial literacy project where we provide financial literacy training to schools, farmworkers and other community members.”
And, on top of all of this, the clinic also takes on national “impact matters” - matters which have the potential to broadly advance the interests of the poor and vulnerable.
“For example, in 2016 we were involved in the Constitutional Court litigation where the court ordered judicial oversight before issuing emolument attachment orders,” he says.
“We are also a party to recently initiated litigation in the Western Cape High Court against 49 respondents for judicial intervention regarding certain debt collection processes. All the major role players in the credit industry are involved.”
A very recent case was one in which the clinic represented South African Paralympian, Hendri Herbst, in a matter where he was refused access to a popular Cape winery’s restaurant because of the presence of his guide dog in 2014.
Broodryk says the winery has admitted to discriminating against Herbst.
“In terms of the settlement agreement, which was made an order of the Equality Court in late September, Durbanville Hills had to issue a public apology in which it admits to discriminating against Herbst and undertakes to take “steps to ensure that all staff employed by Durbanville Hills will take part in sensitivity training from the Guide Dog Association of South Africa”. Durbanville Hills was also ordered to contribute R50 000 to the Guide Dogs Association “for the purpose of a media campaign to be run by it in order to raise awareness in respect of guide dogs” and to pay R50 000 to Mr Herbst as compensation for the incident, he said.
Broodryk’s team has been central to the discussions surrounding tampon tax, following its submissions to an independent panel and to Treasury that sanitary pads should be included in the list of zero-rated VAT items.
He says since his appointment, very few cases have “gone wrong”.
But, he is ever mindful of the reality that litigation results are never guaranteed and outcomes of trials are difficult to predict.
“Our clients are more often than not legally unenlightened, poor, desperate and experience feelings of hopelessness and, therefore, the stakes are always very high.
“The clinic does not have the luxury of big corporate clients. As is evident from the high risk cases we take on, all of the proceedings are characterised by a combination of confidence and nervous apprehension among our lawyers until, hopefully, a positive final outcome is achieved. That is why, when we pursue impact litigation matters, we do so only after having followed extensive internal processes to ensure that the matters are meritorious and justify the allocation of our resources.”
Broodryk is quick to point out all South African university law clinics are doing good work, essential to South African society.
Recently shortlisted as specialist law firm of the year, at the 2018 African Legal Awards and the recipient of the Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa Achievement Award, he says this was a result of a year-long exercise in which the clinic used the services of an external consultancy firm to assist in updating its organisational strategy and developing a measurement and evaluation framework.
“This has allowed us to revisit and reformulate our vision, mission and our core values and to focus ourselves on what we want to achieve over the next five years,” he says.
Financial sustainability remains a huge challenge “as the pool gets smaller and more entities compete for it”.
“There are, however, wonderful opportunities for the clinic going forward. We are increasingly approached by clients with potentially significant impact litigation matters that have the potential to change the South African legal landscape. We are also excited about the likelihood that, from 2020, the clinic will be training all our final year law students - the future of our legal profession - on the practicalities of law.”
The team has a lot on its plate. And on a personal note, Broodryk says he has to stay focused, determined, proactive and open to criticism.
“Understandably the clinic responsibilities take up an exorbitant amount of time and I have to cautiously balance work and personal time.”
“Home for me is with my wife and two Labradors. My wife and I enjoy travelling immensely and, when we have spare time, we spend time planning our next trip!”