Opperman obtained an LLB from the University of Johannesburg and worked as a prosecutor for two years before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 1990. She was involved in “criminal trials of a political nature arising from protest actions against the apartheid state” during that period. This changed after 1994 when her commercial practise — like many female practitioners in SA, it would appear — included more matrimonial work. Opperman was conferred silk in 2014 and has acted in the high court for various stints since then.
Asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng about the uneven distribution of work to female advocates, Opperman said she didn’t feel “the numbers represented” any major transformative shifts at the Johannesburg Bar where ten percent of the senior counsel were women and of that, only three percent black.
She later pinpointed that in the legal sector, there was a “group of practitioners who hold the key or access to” specialised work in fields like intellectual property rights and construction work, who are reticent to include black and female lawyers.
Asked by justice minister Michael Masutha what suggestions she had to transform the legal profession and the judiciary, Opperman said she “welcomed” initiatives by the Johannesburg Bar to ensure that a minimum of one out of every three junior counsel in a matter should be black. Opperman conceded transformation was a “very difficult matter” to deal with and that government would have to either “get corporations together and make a sanction or perhaps legislate” on the matter.
Opperman said she was “embarrassed” about not being able to speak an indigenous language.
Asked about her judicial philosophy, Opperman said hers was to “give parties a proper hearing” and to write “well reasoned judgments in a reasonable time” so as to “prevent parties from taking the law into their own hands”.