Getting Attorneys to Read: the Bell Dewar Book Club

Submited by Olwyn Garratt, Knowledge Manager, Bell Dewar, South Africa. 

The Bell Dewar Book Club was proposed by Bell Dewar’s Managing Director, Blaize Vance, as an initiative for first year candidate attorneys to promote the habit of reading. At the first meeting the group were given set pieces to read from Freakonomics (Levitt & Dubner) and What the Dog Saw (Gladwell) and these formed the basis for a discussion on looking beyond the obvious in any given situation. This meeting was followed by a couple of sessions at which we looked at topical business issues and the media coverage on each.

The meetings were interesting but not every member was fully engaged and after some discussions we moved the focus to local (South African) books that included biographies of Chris Hani, Steve Biko and Julius Malema, and current affairs stories like Killing Kebble and Bang Bang Club. The success of this strategy became obvious in the enhanced enthusiasm of presenters at the meetings and the fact that some of these books passed from person to person without making it back to the library shelves.

In one of the final group sessions a club member identified An Inconvenient Youth; Julius Malema and the ‘new’ ANC as the book that had the most impact on her. This prompted us to contact publisher PanMacmillan and arrange for Fiona Forde to come to Bell Dewar. An open session was held and a number of senior practitioners attended.

Fiona’s talk was riveting, and prompted active response by the assembled group, many of whom found it sobering to be instructed about the South African political scene by a new resident .Tough questions were asked about nationalisation, about the economic prospects for South Africa, about the ANC leadership debate, and the answers to some of these questions silenced the audience. The book club members were entranced and it was an exhilarating culmination to the 2011 book journey.

The presentation put the Bell Dewar Book Club on the corporate radar and led to a number of requests to extend membership to the wider community.

This naturally presents some challenges for 2012: sustaining a programme that catches the attention of first year candidate attorneys while at the same time growing this into a forum that will interest the wider Bell Dewar family.

We are starting the year with our first year CAs in much the same way as we did in 2011, with the “hidden side of everything” as a contrast to conventional wisdom and self-help style business books. We have a schedule of upcoming meetings but we keep this flexible in order to provide for newly published material, particularly with regard local books.

Suggestions for relevant material are always welcome, both from our Bell Dewar readers and also from professional colleagues.

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