The Competition Commission (“Commission”) and council members of the Law Society of South Africa (“LSSA”) met on 2 April 2012 to discuss the implications of the Commission’s refusal to grant the LSSA an exemption for the professional Rules of the statutory provincial law societies. Both parties agreed and committed themselves – as far as possible – to resolving all matters concerning the professional Rules governing the attorneys’ profession in a manner that will ensure the continued professionalism and integrity of the profession while addressing competition law concerns raised by the Commission.
The parties acknowledged that some confusion might have arisen from the Commission’s decision regarding the application of the existing professional Rules and wish to clarify the position to both the legal profession and the general public. It is important to appreciate that while the Commission has decided that certain Rules that restrict competition have not been exempted; such Rules cannot be dispensed with without promulgating new ones, as this will create an untenable vacuum. In addition, change in the Rules requires a change in legislation as the Rules emanate from the Attorneys Act. In view of the above, the parties have agreed that until the ongoing process of finalising the new Legal Practice Bill has been concluded, the existing Rules will be interpreted and applied in a manner that is not offensive to competition law. In this respect the parties have agreed the said Rules will be applied as follows:
The existing Rules apply, provided that all minimum tariffs will not be enforced. In other words attorneys may charge fees below the minimum tariffs where these are prescribed.
The existing Rules will apply, except that any restriction on advertising that conforms with the general advertising standards in that it is truthful and not misleading to the public are lifted.
The Commission’s decision will not affect the status quo pending the promulgation of the new Rules.
The LSSA will cooperate with the Commission in addressing any matters concerning competition issues between now and the promulgation of the new Legal Practice Bill. In the event of doubt as to whether any conduct offends the competition law principles, the LSSA has agreed that the provincial law societies will consult the Commission on such cases.
In addition, both parties will work closely with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to ensure that a permanent resolution on these matters is found expeditiously.
ISSUED ON BEHALF OF THE CO-CHAIRPERSONS OF THE LAW SOCIETY OF SOUTH AFRICA, KRISH GOVENDER AND JAN STEMMETT, AND THE COMMISSIONER OF THE COMPETITION COMMISSION, SHAN RAMBURUTH
For further details contact:
Communication Manager, Law Society of South Africa
Tel: (012) 366 8800 or 083 380 1307