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From Dunn School student to High Court judge: The Inspiring Journey of Omphemetse Mooki

In a career journey that transcends boundaries, Omphemetse Mooki’s story stands as a testament to the limitless possibilities that determination and a pursuit of excellence can achieve. An alumnus of William James’ lab at the Dunn School of Pathology his remarkable academic and professional trajectory to High Court Judge in South Africa, is truly inspiring.

Born in South Africa on 17 August 1968, Omphemetse’s academic journey began at Stanford University, where he was awarded a University Scholarship to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Immunology and Microbiology. This solid foundation in the sciences provided him with the springboard to venture into more challenging domains, setting the stage for the transformative path he would later tread. His tenure at Stanford was further enriched when he was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, an acknowledgment of his intellectual prowess and commitment to his chosen field of study.

As part of his academic odyssey, Omphemetse joined the Dunn School as an MSc student in William James’ lab in Michaelmas 1993. Here, he engaged in ground-breaking research focusing on blocks to HIV infection in murine cells.

The transition from the scientific world to the realm of law is a remarkable facet of Omphemetse’s journey. His passion for the legal profession led him to the University of Cape Town, where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree. This paved the way for a career as a legal professional, culminating in his call to the Bar in 2003 and the subsequent award of Letters Patent in 2018, formally recognising him as Senior Counsel.

Before stepping into the courtroom as a barrister, Omphemetse honed his skills as a commercial attorney with the prestigious international law firm of White & Case LLP. His extensive experience also includes a role as a Senior Legal Advisor for one of South Africa’s major local banks.

Today, Omphemetse’s legal expertise spans a diverse range of practice areas, from commercial law and competition law to public law, medical negligence disputes, and labour law. He appears in various courts in South Africa,  including the Competition Tribunal, the Competition Appeal Court, the High Court, Labour Court, Labour Appeal Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, and the Constitutional Court. Omphemetse reached the pinnacle of his legal career by being formally appointed a High Court Judge in November 2023.

Furthermore, Omphemetse’s contributions to legal scholarship are substantial. Several of his articles and scholarly works have been cited in publications.

Commenting on the transferable skills from his scientific to legal career, Omphemetse said:

“I am often asked about the transition from being a scientist to practising law, which some consider “radical.” This has puzzled me. The sciences, fundamentally, teach a habit of mind: how to go about making sense of information.  This includes the ability to anticipate issues that have not been addressed to-date. I apply the same mode in the practise of the law.” 

Omphemetse Mooki’s journey serves as a shining example of what dedication and a pursuit of excellence can accomplish, and it is a source of inspiration for all of us at the Dunn School of Pathology and beyond.

Written by Jo Peel, HoD office

Omphemetse Mooki today in Chambers and as an MSc student in William James' lab at the Dunn School in 1993

Omphemetse Mooki in Chambers in South Africa, and as a student at the Dunn School back in 1993

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