16 July 2016 was the day that I started working at my previous firm.
Before this, I had been wholeheartedly job hunting for articles for about 4 months with not a single interview.
One day I received a call for an interview in Pretoria East and so I drove from Rustenburg with a prayer in my heart all the way. Your girl nailed the interview and started working 3 weeks later. The 16th of July 2016.
My first day was a blur of information and when lunchtime came I headed out to sit in my car. I took the opportunity to call my mom and told her everything.
I didn’t spend the full hour outside and then came back in.
The moment I walked in, the candidate attorney who was training me scolded me for taking lunch. Her words were, “ you don’t get lunch.” I found it strange but I let it be. The following day I needed to go to the pharmacy at lunch and headed on out. While driving I received a call from the office asking where I was. I confusingly checked my time again just to make sure it was 12 o’clock and proudly said, “it is my lunch time. I am going to the pharmacy.”
My supervisor, who was the one who had called, then informed me that I need to tell her if I was going off the property during lunch. I was confused but I realised very quickly that lunch time was clearly not my own. I made peace with this and got into the habit if not taking lunch. I ate at my desk and carried on working. The culture was clearly entrenched in the company that certain employees were not afforded as many rights as previously thought.
Fast forward to the two candidates who were training me leaving the company. I took over the work of two people. This was court visits, drafting and general admin. It was clear to my co-workers that I was overwhelmed but as common practice with interns and even more so in the legal fraternity I was here for my articles ad there was nothing that I could do about it. Candidate attorneys are after all easily replaceable.
After a few months of roughing it out alone it was clear that this was indeed the work of two people and another candidate was thankfully hired. She has since become like a sister to me, but that is a story for another day.
We worked 7 am – 8 pm on most days during high volume period. Our work was still never done. The two year passed in more of a blur with the additional stress of board exams, evening classes and Masters. I was constantly stressed and the worst was still to come.
The Law Society (Legal Practitioners Council) has conveniently never reviewed how much abuse candidate attorneys go through in their time of articles. I constantly say that the most unfair practises and rules are within the legal fraternity. The affidavit that you work towards in order to be admitted as an attorney of the High Court comes at a high price. Usually just your sanity, but probably your liver too.
After my favourite co-worker finished her articles the firm did not offer her place to stay. This left me alone, again. At this point though, the department had downsized and the two support staff that we had were either moved to other departments or left the company. In the legal department it was me, my supervisor and my boss. Down from six to three.
My supervisor was tasked with the call center management and then I was tasked with the management of the legal aspects of all our clients. This technically meant that it was just me in the legal department doing all of the ground work. My supervisor then went on maternity leave.
I began working from 7am up until 10 and even 11pm for over 3 months. It makes me emotional at times that for months I never saw a sunset or sunrise because of my schedule. I would be in absolute awe when I was able to experience these little joys.
In the space of one month during the excessive stress from work, I lost both my maternal grandmother and my youngest niece.
For two days I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t even reach for the alcohol that I had been using as a coping mechanism. I had gained an excess of 10kgs because I genuinely had no time to cook or care for myself.
Luckily the two days that I disappeared from work were right before the weekend and so in theory I was able to rest for 4 days.
When I finally returned to the office I was summoned to the bosses office. After explaining what had happened, I was offered therapy. The offer was not to reduce my stress or work load but rather to attempt to fix the broken, well oiled machine who was desperate for her affidavit.
I still took the offer though and went to therapy. My therapist immediately advised me after the first session that she was going to book me off work and send me to a wellness clinic because I was on the thinnest line towards burn out. I declined.
Remember how I said that the law society has crazy rules? Well, as a candidate you cannot be absent from work for over 30 days. You guessed it, no falling pregnant, no admission to mental health institutions and all of that apparently unnecessary absenteeism that humans are susceptible to. I was then placed on various medication for stress, anxiety and depression. I pushed on until I wrote my last board exam with the firm, because that was my exit strategy.
I didn’t pass the exam. The moment that I found out, I made the decision to quit my job. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was one exam pass away from admission but I just could not reconcile staying at this firm until 2020 where I could rewrite.
And so I quit. I made the decision to choose myself.
This is something that I never do. I am a finisher. I have a high work ethic and drive. In this instance, I just could not carry on.
In the process of me serving my notice the department I was in hired 3 people to replace me. I trained all of them and I throw up a little prayer for them every time I think about it.
31 October 2019 was my last day.
It has been over a year since leaving that work space and I genuinely am happier than I have been in years.
Sometimes the beginning of a beautiful story of loving your life is between making difficult decisions that may be frowned on by others.