You are an expert in personal injury and liability claims who often works on complex local and international matters. What are you working on at the moment?
I am involved in an interesting medical negligence matter, representing a doctor who received a burn victim in hospital, after which things went wrong. Multiple doctors and the hospital are being sued, and it is intellectually challenging trying to tease out that which would in any event have occurred due to the patient’s extensive burn wounds and that which may have happened in hospital. I am also hard at work gearing up my practice to move into the formal legal mediation space due to the changing Rules of Court.
We have seen your inspiring daily Instagram posts of you working away throughout the lockdown. How do you stay positive and motivated?
My instinctive reaction is to say it is because l was raised a Calvinist, but l think that l am fortunate that l actually love what l do: working has simply never been a chore to me. If anybody wants to follow me on Instagram I can be found at @dweideman.
Where did you grow up? Did your childhood experiences influence you to follow a legal career?
I am a child of the rural platteland: I was born in Welkom, started school in Villiers and matriculated in Kroonstad. When I was growing up I had no idea what l wanted to do with my life. I stumbled into law accidentally. I did a BCom degree (economics was my first love). Then when I was working at the University of Johannesburg, as an assistant to the Chair at Strategic Studies, the professor l was working for persuaded me that l should do an LLB after my BCom, before considering continuing with economics. And the rest is history!
You led LindsayKeller Attorneys for 12 years as senior partner, after serving as managing partner of the firm for ten years. What do you enjoy about working at the firm?
I was working full time at General Accident Insurance Co while doing my LLB, attending evening classes only. I needed to start looking to do my articles and I sent my CV to those firms that l knew did insurance work, as that was all that l had to distinguish myself from others also looking to do their articles. I was invited for only one interview, at LindsayKeller, and my appointment became their first steps towards transformation at the firm – I was the first clerk not from a private school and whose first language was not English. I came second in the Transvaal in the admission exams in 1987/88, writing in English after having done all my university training in Afrikaans. I was a professional assistant for one year before becoming the youngest equity partner in the history of the firm. The firm and l have always been a perfect fit.
You have been involved in a remarkable number of Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and High Court reported cases. What leads an attorney to achieve this level of success?
Some of it is just luck, some of it is hard work. I had the privilege to work for a client that had the interest and the funds to require legal certainty in respect of numerous issues. They say only 10% of attorneys do one SCA case in their lifetime, and of that 10%, only 10% goes to the SCA more than once. I am honoured to have 11 reported SCA cases.
What challenges do legal practitioners like yourself face in running a successful practice?
When they are in trouble, people love attorneys. Not so much when it comes to payment. There are three requirements to being a good attorney: the ability to attract work, the technical knowledge to do the work and the ability to collect a fee. Juggling these three requirements successfully is what creates a successful practice.
What makes you optimistic about the legal fraternity in South Africa?
Very little. The law that we are practising now is not the law that I trained in. Historically, you could give your client an indication of what the result will be, based on the law. Now, who the judge will be is almost as important as what the law says. That makes me very cynical about the future of practising law, which is one of the reasons why l am refocusing my practice on mediation work.
What are you reading and watching now?
I am reading Shantaram at the moment, by Gregory David Roberts. Great book, beautiful English and thought-provoking ideas, but lengthy, at over 900 pages. I’m watching a variety of shows at the moment. I enjoy cooking shows like MasterChef and Top Chef, as well as Survivor, The Amazing Race and Project Runway.