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Unisa alumni share their journeys – Larissa Francis

Larissa Francis (Image copyright: Le Paris Photography)

Larissa Francis grew up in a family where education was a top priority. She was taught that there is no limit to where your education can take you and she was always encouraged to be the best person she could possibly be. The hierarchy of values in her family placed God first, always, followed by family, and then education. Steeped in those values, she completed her schooling career and proceeded to tertiary education. This led her through the doors of Unisa’s College of Law and the start of a new journey, this time as a law student.

The transition from high school to tertiary studies came with its fair share of speed bumps. It forced her to adopt a new way of thinking and a new approach to studying – and she was forced to boost her thinking capacity. From being in a classroom with teachers who poured their substance into their learners to sitting in her lounge at home, all alone with her textbooks gave her a slight chill down her spine, as it would have for anyone. She says that it was at this precise point when she realised that she would have to pull herself together and try to picture the end goal, graduation.

During her time at Unisa, she engaged with as many people as she could and is fortunate enough to have participated in the Moot Court and Street Law Programmes at Unisa. Both these programmes were challenging, yet rewarding, and they presented an opportunity to experience a different sphere of her community. Taking part in Moot Court, she was able to branch out and meet people from different walks of life, all of whom had the same goal; that of being moulded into a successful legal practitioner one day. Sometimes, she says, we believe that we are great at what we do and that we have a certain, unique skill set. However, it can be a humbling experience to showcase those skills in front of others and group them into what she describes as ‘one big pile of awesomeness’.

Larissa was nominated as the leader of the Street Law group and headed up four teams who were allocated to go out into local communities and educate communities on the fundamentals of our law. They went out into underprivileged areas, to people who did not have access to basic legal advice, and shared their knowledge with them. She said it was an incredible experience to be able to use their limited knowledge at the time and impart this to those who craved such knowledge and information. Students sometimes don't believe that these programmes are worth the time or effort, but Larissa can confidently tell you that those who think that way are mistaken. Apart from the wonderful people that she has come into contact with, she also says that this experience has grown her not only as a student, but as an individual. It has also given her the opportunity to go back and give back and, as she says, ‘we are none of us too great to be able to help another human being’.

Larissa encourages law students to take advantage of such activities when they are available. Sometimes, she says, students may feel that, as Unisa is a distance learning institution, there isn’t anything for them to do except collect their material, submit assignments, and write exams, but this is false indeed. Her LLB graduation, after four years, was one of the happiest moments of her life. Putting on her academic gown and walking up onto that stage, and then seeing the absolute delight in her family’s eyes, was an indescribable feeling.

Now, many years later – years of articles, practical legal training, board exams, practice management courses, highs, lows, and perseverance – she is the proud owner of her own law firm. Having decided in 2019 that being her own boss was the best way for her to go, she began the setup process early in 2020 and was soon overseeing the launch of the Law Offices of Larissa Singh (Singh being her maiden name).

Just over a month later, Covid-19 arrived and consumed our lives. Just as many other businesses had to close their doors, so too did law firms. Without access to clients, courts, or physical locations, there was no income. Nothing. And just like that, everything came to a screeching halt.

At that stage, she says, she felt that things were completely out of control. The pandemic could not have come at a worse time for her newly launched firm as she was unable even to practice. The important thing, though, according to Larissa, is to remember never to stop pushing and never to give up, no matter what might be going on around you. You are your own unique brand and your dream may not happen overnight, but that certainly does not mean that you should stop. She is always of the opinion that, if you want something, you go out and work for it. ‘No one ever got anywhere by just sitting down and waiting for the good Lord to hand everything to them on a silver platter,’ she says. She urges students, parents, entrepreneurs and legal practitioners never to stop. ‘Even though we may be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic of catastrophic proportions, and while life may seem fleeting, you should simply not give up.’ Her message to all prospective graduates and aspiring leaders is ‘may your future be as bright as every star in the sky.’

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.Wilma Rudolph

* By Jo Cossavella, Communications Officer, Unisa KwaZulu-Natal Region

Publish date: 2020/08/18