Earlier this year, I had the privilege of doing vacation work at ENS Africa, Africa’s largest law firm. Rather than try to summarise two weeks’ worth of an intensive programme, I will try to summarise the lessons that I took from it.
First, I was overwhelmed by the calibre of people both working at the firm and on the “vac work” programme with me. All exceptionally clever and extremely hardworking, these lawyers (and prospective lawyers) blew me away with not just their brains but their attitude. The firm itself honestly felt like a family. ENS prides itself on working as one team across all of its offices, and this is something that is clear immediately.
On the very first day, we were introduced to the 21 steps to excellence as ENS is known to “strive for excellence”. I have truly taken these steps to heart since my ENS experience and have tried to incorporate them into my daily life. They are as follows:
- Hard work – you have to put in the time and the effort!
- You are being relied upon – remember your actions affect not just you but also your team.
- Honesty – own up to your mistakes when you make them!
- Humility – no one wants to work with someone who is full of themselves.
- Plan before pen – planning is critical! Before you write something down, make sure that you have a proper plan in place.
- Apply yourself. Get stuck in!
- Be a mentor – help those who are less experienced than you and those who may be struggling.
- If you are always speaking you aren’t listening, and feedback is always important!
- Always do your best.
- Be resourceful – when one way does not work, find another that does.
- Be prepared for clients. This step I have taken into my life in a general sense to be prepared for any commitment.
- If you say you are going to do something, do it. Even before ENS, this has been one of my fundamental tenets in life.
- Check everything constantly – make sure you are producing the best possible version of whatever you are doing!
- Be committed – you’ll never succeed if you’re half in, half out.
- Ask if you don’t know things.
- Find the balance. This is critical to life in general as you have to have a healthy balance between your work, social life, mental state, physical health, and other commitments.
- Understand all aspects of what you are doing. Don’t look at things in a vacuum!
- Attention to detail – it’s the little things that differentiate the good from the excellent.
- Don’t take things personally – when you receive feedback and criticism, it is to help you improve, not to tear you down.
- Take ownership – step up to the plate and swing!
- Enjoy it. It’s not worth it if you don’t enjoy what you do.
These steps are something that we are all told to do at some point in life. But to have them in a list and to live by them as tenets, that is something else entirely. The ENS family consists of some of the smartest and most successful lawyers not just in Africa, but in the world and if these are the tenets they live by, they must be doing something right.
ENS is not just a firm that concerns itself with money, however. ENS is concerned with the problems of the local and less fortunate communities with pro-bono offices in Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha in Cape Town and Alexandria in Johannesburg. ENS has been providing these services for 11 years and with social responsibility as a core value, ENS aims to be “at the doorstep” to make justice and legal representation accessible. This value of social responsibility is something that speaks to me because as Natasha Wagiet, the coordinator of the Mitchell’s Plain pro-bono office put it, “lawyers provide a service, and we must be agents for change by repairing the tears in our community.” This entails treating all clients the same, regardless of whether they are paying corporate magnates or ordinary people seeking justice at the pro-bono office.
The rest of the experience was a wild ride, and I loved every second of it. The vac work programme truly paid off as I was offered articles for the Cape Town office in 2020 and needless to say, I am beyond excited to continue my ENS experience!
My first cringy selfie with Aidan Whitaker outside the ENS offices, Cape Town.