3 Centuries of Law

The firm owes its establishment to Edward Rooth who hailed from the Cape Colony and journeyed to the Transvaal as a young man with his father when the latter, a land surveyor, was instructed by the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek to survey and plan the town of Middelburg, Mpumalanga. Rooth established an attorneys’ practice in the Cape on 1 November 1887, but was attracted by the allure of the North. He therefore availed of the first opportunity to establish an office in Pretoria.

Rooth was a multilingual attorney who spoke Dutch, English and French and gained the confidence of statesmen of the time. Among his contributions were the creation of the Municipality of Pretoria and the establishment of the Law Society of the Transvaal on 19 October 1892.

In 1889 another Capetonian, ML Wessels, who was the brother of the Chief Justice, Sir John Wessels, joined Edward Rooth. On 12 July 1889 the founding of the partnership of Rooth & Wessels was published in the Provincial Gazette. Their office was situated in the Bank of Netherlands on Church Square.

From its inception the firm attracted outstanding attorneys and leaders in the profession. HL Malherbe succeeded Edward Rooth as senior partner of the firm. Under his leadership the firm grew in stature and reputation. Under his stewardship the firm assisted with the drafting of the South African Reserve Bank Act in 1920. Malherbe also served as President of the Law Society of the Transvaal for fourteen years.

There after the era of Sydney Bam arrived. He was a partner of the firm for 49 years, 30 of which as the senior partner. The firm expanded its client base and its composition and became known and respected nationally and internationally. The main characteristic of the firm since its inception has been the expertise and integrity of its practitioners. Subsequent senior partners such as Willem du Plessis, Catherine Smith, Tippy Luttig, Roland Brink, Louis Wessels and others continued in the same tradition. Several judges of the High Court, past and present, were practitioners previously associated with the firm. Almost 200 judgments reported by the High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court emanated from the firm. The firm is also a founding member of the Arbitration Foundation of South Africa.

On 14 April 2016 the Board of directors resolved to henceforth practise under style of RW Attorneys under the leadership of Andre Bloem as the Managing Director and Joseph Maluleke as the Chairman of the Board.

The rebranding coincided with the firm celebrating 127 years of practice. It reflects the firm’s commitment to old fashioned values of honesty and integrity whilst at the same time showcasing the dynamism and adaptability of the firm to modern day needs of all its clients.

A significant milestone in RW Attorney’s commitment to transformation was achieved in 2019 when Faathima Asmall was appointed Chairperson of the Board and then Managing Partner (CEO) in January 2022. Faathima now leads RW Attorneys as the first black and first female managing partner in the firm’s existence.

Adding value has become central to the firm’s brand. Being more valuable to its clients has always been part of the firm’s philosophy and continues to be at the center of the firm’s service.

RW has never been better equipped with regard to leadership, manpower, technology and personnel to provide relevant and innovative solutions to its clients.

In March 2023, Faathima Asmall (Managing Director) handed over all historical documents and photos from the long history of the firm to Die Erfenisstigting at the Voortrekker Monument, for safe keeping as part of their historical collection. These documents and photographs can be viewed by the public by contacting Die Erfenisstigting directly on +27 12 326 6770.