Q&A with Pieter de Waal

Pieter de Waal is general counsel at the Law Society.

1. You're talking to a friend of a friend at a party. How do you describe what you do?

I support the Law Society’s strategic efforts to represent the solicitor profession by influencing the development of law and public policy to align with our interests, standards and values.

Promoting the rule of law and access to justice is a central feature of the job.

I provide general counsel and strategic advice to our board and executive leadership on legal, corporate, regulatory and reputational risks associated with the Law Society’s business aims and objectives.

2. Career highlight?

A once in a lifetime opportunity to have contributed to the successful delivery of a very ambitious project of national importance, from start to finish.

The London 2012 Games provided a huge opportunity for UK industry to meet the many challenges of delivering a sustainable development project with a real and lasting legacy.

3. What insights into the practice of law do you get from your judicial appointments?

Creating a comfortable environment for litigants in person to be able to understand and fully participate in court proceedings. This is essential not only to ensure the right outcomes but also to maintain public confidence in, and credibility of, the judicial system.

4. What advice would you give to a City solicitor seeking a tribunal appointment?

Invest time and effort in shadowing experienced judicial office holders, whether it is in the courts or in the tribunals. This will greatly assist in preparing for the selection process and to demonstrate the necessary skill set. Flexibility is also important, being willing to work in different tribunal jurisdictions that cover different areas of the law.

5. How was working in-house at the Olympic Delivery Authority?

High profile + high value = high pressure!

It was extremely rewarding to be part of such an ambitious multi-billion pound regeneration project over a period of nine years. It also had some unique features, notably immovable deadlines! The scope of legal work covered an exceptionally wide range of areas.

Although primarily a construction and infrastructure project, we also had to be specialists in public and regulatory law, corporate governance, EU procurement law, commercial and contract law, IP, information management, property and planning law, insurance and asset protection, and logistics.

Over the course of the programme we negotiated and managed over 2,500 high value contracts from commencement to completion and final settlement. Following the staging of the Games, the two-year winding up period also brought unique challenges to ensure a clean an ordered exit.

6. Share some great advice you've been given.

Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement (Mark Twain).

I was once told by a wise captain of industry that being an effective in-house counsel requires a combination of technical skills, sharp intellect and strong ethics – in other words being a good lawyer, business partner, and guardian. I think that sums it up very well.

7. Favourite city?

Cape Town, naturally.

8. How would you spend your last £5?

A cold beverage.

9. Favourite TV box set?

Goliath with Billy Bob Thornton.

10. Hidden talents?

I am a reasonably decent saxophonist and have been a member of the English Chamber Choir and the London Philharmonic Choir.

11. Do you have a role model or is there someone you admire and why?

I had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela a few times, the first occasion just a few months after he had become democratically elected president of South Africa.

Hundreds of awards and honours have rightly been bestowed upon him, but in person he most powerfully embodied the qualities of magnanimity and reconciliation and the spirit of Ubuntu.

Ironically, I also litigated against him (in his official capacity) representing a pro bono client who brought the first legal challenge against a Presidential Act under the new constitutional Bill of Rights.

12. Favourite book of all time?

I enjoy reading a blend of history and philosophy. My favourite is The Afrikaners: Biography of a People by Hermann Giliomee. It is the first comprehensive history of the Afrikaner people and a highly readable narrative of their psyche as a nation.