“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
Most would readily agree that Nelson Mandela was a great statesman and a great leader who tirelessly worked to add dignity to the struggle for racial justice. Not only was he able to save countless lives by avoiding a civil war and working to create a democratic South Africa, but he was also a worldwide inspiration. An anti-Apartheid revolutionary, philanthropist and politician, Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
In 1952, Mandela and his friend, Oliver Tambo, opened the first black law firm in South Africa. During that time, it was a crime for blacks to ride on a whites-only bus or to drink at a whites-only water fountain. Due to Apartheid laws, black South Africans often found themselves needing professional legal representation. Not only were white law firms too expensive, but Mandela also found that many blue-chip firms “charged Africans even higher fees for criminal and civil cases than they did their far wealthier white clients.”
By providing legal representation for Africans who might not have otherwise been able to afford it, Mandela and Tambo acted as a legal aid counsel and public defender all rolled into one, working to fulfill the core mission of the legal industry by providing affordable access to justice. Tambo would take on most of the paperwork in the office, while Mandela would typically represent clients in the courtroom. The firm ultimately ceased to exist after the anti-Apartheid struggle started to consume the men’s time, and the office burned down in 1960.
After spending nearly 10 years inside the confines of the courtroom, Mandela translated his core legal skills into a political project to help create a democratic South America. He is often described as a lawyer who not only honed his craft but also pursued the art of statesmanship, thus rightfully earning the enduring respect of the community. This art requires two qualities which Mandela was known for demonstrating: extraordinary devotion to the public good and wisdom in deliberating about it.