distinction between the legal practice in Natal and that in the Transvaal was that in Natal there was a joint bar; a barrister, whilst he was admitted to the rank of advocate, could also practise as an attorney; whereas in the Transvaal, as in Bombay, the spheres of attorneys and advocates were distinct. A barrister had the right of election whether he would practise as an advocate or as an attorney. So whilst in Natal I was admitted as an advocate, in the Transvaal I sought admission as an attorney. For as an advocate I could not have come in direct contact with the Indians and the white attorneys in South Africa would not have briefed me.
But even in the Transvaal it was open to attorneys to appear before
magistrates. On one occasion, whilst I was conducting a case before
a magistrate in Johannesburg, I discovered that my client had
deceived me. I saw him completely break down in the witness box. So
without any argument I asked the magistrate to dismiss the case. The
opposing counsel was astonished, and the magistrate was pleased. I
rebuked my client for bringing a false case to me. He knew that I
never accepted false cases, and when I brought the thing home to
him, he admitted his mistake, and I have an impression that he was
not angry with me for having asked the magistrate to decide against
him. At any rate my conduct in this case did not affect my practice
for the worse, indeed it made my work easier. I also saw that my
devotion to truth enhanced my reputation amongst the members of the
profession, and in spite of the handicap of colour I was able in
some cases to win even their affection.
During my professional work it was also my habit never to conceal my
ignorance from my clients or my colleagues. Wherever I felt myself
at sea, I would advise my client to consult some other counsel, or
if he preferred to stick to me, I would ask him to let me seek the
assistance of senior counsel. This frankness earned me the unbounded
affection and trust of my clients. They were always willing to pay
the fee whenever consultation with senior counsel was necessary.
This affection and trust served me in good stead in my public work.
I have indicated in the foregoing chapters that my object in
practising in South Africa was service of the community. Even for
this purpose, winning the confidence of the people was an
indispensable condition. The large-hearted Indians magnified into
service professional work done for money, and when I advised them to
suffer the hardships of imprisonment for the sake of their rights,
many of them cheerfully accepted the advice, not so much because
they had reasoned out the correctness of the course, as because of
their confidence in, and affection for, me.
As I write this, many a sweet reminiscence comes to my mind.
Hundreds of clients became friends and real co-workers in public
service, and their association sweetened a life that was otherwise
full of difficulties and dangers.