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Changing the face

Paralegal training academy changes the face of conveyancing learning

In the centre of Cape Town, in a city office block is a centre of learning that is turning out some of the country's top paralegals. The Igqwetha Training Academy, run and funded by top law firm strb Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes, is aimed at empowering individuals to handle the complex world of conveyancing.

Lizelle Kilbourn, who runs the ITA, is justifiably proud of the facilities - and the quality of work being done at the Academy. 'Since March last year, we have run eight successful courses and we have a waiting list. For me, that is a most encouraging sign,' she says.

Kilbourn, who ran her own practice in Gauteng, had relocated to Cape Town when she was approached by Phillip Stein from Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes. 'He told me the firm had a vision about creating a training school to empower previously disadvantaged individuals in the conveyancing field. The course had to include theory, and be practical too.'

Kilbourn immediately set about writing course notes and working with the firm to set up a training centre. By July 2004, they were ready to roll out the course. 'The applications poured in,' she says. 'We only have space for 18 students at a time so we have to be careful in our selection process.'

Candidates have to write a pre-assessment test and gain a minimum mark of 65 percent. 'Applicants have to be literate and have typing speeds of at least 30 words per minute. Our students range from school leavers to secretaries who want to upgrade their skills.

'Being a conveyancing paralegal is a profession, one that has enormous responsibilities attached to it so although it is hard to turn people away, we can't waste their time either. I must say though, if there's a borderline case we generally give them the benefit of the doubt and so far, I haven't been disappointed,' Kilbourn says.

Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes is renowned for its investment into law-related information technology and it hasn't stinted on ensuring that trainee paralegals are trained to use leading software programme, GhostConvey.

'Conveyancing paralegals have to be familiar with this technology,' says Kilbourn. 'Conveyancing is increasingly dependent on IT and will become more so in the future. Korbitec has sponsored the programme for us and it's been of enormous benefit to the students.'

Kilbourn says the course simulates real practice as much as possible. 'This is what sets us apart. We do case studies, we read deeds of sale, and we write business letters and draft documents. We even do role-playing sessions.

'There is an enormous amount of information for students to absorb and it's notoriously difficult to put into practice. I think our model and the process we've built around it has changed the face of conveyancing learning.'

She laughs when she tells the story of an attorney who asked to do the course so that he could answer his paralegal's questions. 'I'm very proud of that fact.'

She says many people believe conveyancing is a simple administrative process. 'It's not,' Kilbourn says emphatically. 'The visible part is like the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are many legal risks so if there's a complication, millions of rands are at risk. We teach the how and the why and equip our trainees to operate in the real world.'

The earning potential, too, is good but a young paralegal needs to work hard to move up the ladder. 'An experienced conveyancing paralegal can earn about R16 000 a month in Cape Town and R20 000 plus in Gauteng,' Kilbourn says.

The current boom in the property world has created a demand for conveyancing paralegals. 'Of course the boom can't last forever but even so, there has always been a demand for well-trained paralegals,' she adds. 'A lot depends on the person and how much effort they put into their jobs.'

Good paralegals have quite specific personality traits, Kilbourn says. 'They've got to be good communicators and the ability to handle stress and a stressful environment. They have to be organised and have good English language skills such as spelling and the ability to draft business letters. Most of all, they have to be able to make things happen and have great attention for detail.'

Although strb Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes are funding the ITA and most of the students as one of their corporate social investment initiatives, it is an expensive undertaking. However, Kilbourn says they do take fee-paying students. The course costs R4000 - half the price of similar training at a tertiary institution.

Published with permission

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