It’s not often that attorneys can knock out credits for continuing legal education during a close encounter with African wildlife.
For Kansas City attorney Matt Merrill, however, an opportunity to analyze South Africa’s legal system also brought him within a few feet of lions, hippos and elephants.
Merrill, of Brown & Ruprecht, was one of 19 participants in the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s 10-day CLE trip to South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. From March 8-18, the attorneys explored new cultures, examined the nuances of the South African legal system and built relationships with peers.
Merrill’s brush with wildlife came during game drives at Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Hunkered down in Toyota Land Cruisers, he and his fellow travelers had an up-close view of “just about every animal you can name,” he said.
“You’d be driving down this rocky road on the safari reserve, and then an elephant would be walking right next to you,” he said. “Then you’d see it’s a family of 10 elephants and you’re like, wow, they’re right next to the truck.”
Trip participants traveled to Cape Town and Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa. The group also flew to visit Victoria Falls, which straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Vickie Mauck, executive director of the KCMBA, said the idea of traveling to South Africa evolved after the organization’s 2017 trip to Cuba.
She said participants responded positively to that CLE trip. Leon Versfeld, an immigration attorney with Versfeld & Hugo and one of those who traveled to Cuba, proposed a future trip to share his native country with others from the bar association.
“There was great enthusiasm, and the trip was set in motion,” Mauck said.
The trip combined legal and cultural excursions.
Travelers visited wineries in the Cape Winelands, hiked Table Mountain and went on a dinner river cruise down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. The group also observed the courts in Pretoria and visited the cell in which the late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned before becoming South Africa’s first black president.
For CLE credit, the group met with lawyers for first-hand perspective on how the legal system operates in South Africa. Todd Graves, of Graves Garrett, said he appreciated that aspect of the trip.
“They are definitely a country that has had a couple of decades of transition,” he said. “The rule of law is certainly not as clearly defined as it is here in this country because their legal system is in a bit of a flux.”
Graves said South Africa’s legal system is unique in its influences. As does its U.S. counterpart, the South African legal system shares a base in English common law, but it diverges from U.S. law due to its additional Dutch and Roman influences.
“One of the biggest frustrations for lawyers [in South Africa] is [that] it’s difficult to counsel clients because the answer is not so clear,” he said. “That made me appreciate our system.”
Nancy Kenner, of Kenner Nygaard DeMarea Kendall, said she was struck by the relative newness of South Africa’s constitution — it was adopted in 1996 — and how the nation’s courts are still working out its interpretations.
“Ours is just a bit older than that,” she said.
Seeing Victoria Falls also was a highlight of the trip, Kenner said.
“It’s not one of the Seven Wonders of the World for nothing,” she said.
Versfeld said his goal for the trip was realized: The group acquired a greater understanding of South Africa’s legal system and racial issues while experiencing the beauty of the country.
“It is not what sometimes it is perceived to be, just another African legal system,” he said. “This is a very vibrant legal system based upon common law.” mo