24 October 1999
Up There Where Legal Eagles Fly
First female attorney to hold top Natal Law Society post wants to see 'explosive change'
Susan Abro believes that much of her success as an attorney and champion for equality in the workplace come from choosing a lifestyle based on her personal independence. Terence Pillay spoke to her about her steady climb to the top of the corporate ladder and her feelings about her appointment as the first woman vice-president of the Natal Law Society
Susan Abro says that most people who meet her are initially afraid of her. And with good reason. The 35-year-old attorney is the first woman to be elected as vice-president of the Natal Law Society and commands supreme respect from her counterparts in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
In another groundbreaking move, Abro and her business partner, Betsie Rowe, have become the first female liquidators in the province. The tenacious Abro also sits on nine legal committees and is the founder of the Women Lawyers' Association.
"I am a passionate person and not afraid of a fight," she says with conviction. "I took an aptitude test at school and the recommended profession supported a career in law, so I followed the hint."
Her climb to the top has been so fast that she sometimes calls a "time-out" to replenish her energy. The litigator set herself strict rules 10 years ago when she was admitted as an attorney. "I refused to be typecast in a woman's role," she declares.
Abro, who is a director at the Advice Desk for Abused Women and sits on the gender committee of the South African Law Society, has always been passionate about women's issues. This palpable enthusiasm contributes greatly to the zeal with which she handles cases that deal with women's issues. "I tend to tackle cases of abuse and discrimination with a lot more vigour because of my own experiences in a mostly male-dominated profession."
She is intent on making the government take zero-tolerance attitudes towards rape, domestic violence and murder. "I find it appalling that rape and domestic violence cases are not seen in as serious a light as road and alcohol abuse offences. We are becoming more progressive, but the changes are not explosive. believe that This is what is necessary to make policy-makers address these issues."
Abro is a workaholic who walks into her office at 5.30am and gets to bed after midnight. But she won't trade it for anything. She is emphatic that she would rather have quality sleep than quantity. "Besides, the wee hours are the most productive time of my day and often when I'm most inspired."
She works hard but plays harder. Her latest ambition is to bungee jump off Victoria Falls. She also cites being the godmother to three children as being right up there with the scary things she's attempted. "I have the utmost respect for mothers who run a household. I believe it's just as stressful as going to court and presenting cases."
While simulating motherhood with her godchildren is something she relishes, Abro says she is in no hurry to start her own family. For the moment, her top priority is taking the legal profession - kicking and screaming - into the 21st century.