How to become an Attorney or Advocate in South Africa

How to become an Attorney or Advocate in South Africa


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How to become an Attorney or Advocate in South Africa

Law is one of the most sought-after qualifications in South Africa, and this is not a surprise as it an inspiring and rewarding career.

If you want to be admitted to the practice of law in South Africa, you will, after you have qualified to be admitted in the High Court as a Legal Practitioner – have to make a choice to be admitted as an Attorney or an Advocate.

In this article, we will look at the requirements to be admitted as a Legal Practitioner, either as an Attorney or an Advocate. I will use the term Legal Practitioner irrespective of if I discuss an Attorney or an Advocate, except, if I specify otherwise.

Is it necessary to get admitted as an Attorney or Advocate?

Law students often ask if they must get admitted as a Legal Practitioner or if they can directly go and work for a company as an in-house lawyer.

It is not necessary to be admitted as a Legal Practitioner if you are not planning to go into the practice of law as an Attorney or Advocate.

The reason that this question is asked so often is that it takes a lot more than just getting your law degree to be admitted as a Legal Practitioner. You must attend further training courses and get practical training before you can be admitted as an Attorney or Advocate.

However, it is my opinion that it is much better first to be admitted as a Legal Practitioner and then go to work as in-house counsel. There is a massive difference between the theory of law and the practical application of law in a courtroom.

Do you have the personality and drive to become a Legal Practitioner?

The practice of law requires a pragmatic, hard-working, and dedicated person. You will regularly be challenged in your opinion, and you must have the drive to succeed.

The following six qualities are required to be a successful Legal Practitioner:

Good communication skills

You must be able to communicate exceptionally well – both verbally and in writing. Depending on what type of Legal Practitioner you are, you must be very persuasive in writing and Court.

Excellent communication skills also mean that you must be able to listen to clients, judges, your peer's etcetera. It is much easier to build relations if you can attentively listen to people when they speak.

• Analytical Skills

Whether you are a law student, or you work a legal counsel, or as a Legal Practitioner, you must be able to analyze vast quantities of information. Once you have examined the information, you must have the ability to present the information in a compelling way to your audience. 

• Research Skills

Legal Practitioners are required to read and research large amounts of information about data, facts, and other information, and they must be able to do this research quickly and efficiently. 

The main thing is that you must find what is relevant and explain it in an easy to understand format.

This is a skill that can be learned, and the more research you do, the better you will become at it.

Be efficient with your time as a student. Use the library resources and build up a network of contacts.

• People Skills

Legal Practitioners work alongside people, and they must be able to interact.
If you are an Attorney, you need to work directly with your clients, the public. If you are an Advocate, you need to be able to work with your Attorneys (and their clients). Junior Advocates often work with senior Advocates, and you need to be able to work alone and in a team.

When you practice law, you will have severe time shortage and other stresses. This will compound people’s skill issues, and you need to be able to manage your people skills.

Always remember that people skills add value to any organization. They help people communicate better, with less miscommunication.

• Problem-solving skills

Working in the legal field requires one to solve problems. Most cases will be different with their nuances. You must be able to think creatively and on your feet.

It is good for law students to take part in moot competitions and debates as this will hone their problem-solving skills.

Clients seek a Legal Practitioner to solve their legal problems.

• Perseverance

If you want to be successful in the practice of law, you need to have determination. You must have the ability to do something for a long time despite many obstacles.

If you can successfully finish your law degree, then that is a good indication that you have what it takes, as it is not every-one that has the stamina to complete a law degree.

What Degree is required to be admitted as a Legal Practitioner?

The study of law is intense, and the minimum requirement is that you must obtain a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. The LLB is a four-year degree.

Some students prefer first to study a BA Law or B. Com Law Degree, where after they study the LLB. These studies usually take five years to complete. 

You could not be admitted in South Africa as a Legal Practitioner without an LLB degree, if you studied in South Africa.  

There were a lot of complaints about the standard of the LLB degrees in South Africa, and the Government stepped in to ensure a higher standard. Some Universities now require that you first obtain a degree, such as a B. Com law degree, before they will allow you to study for your LLB degree.

If you plan to study for your LLB, first make sure that you choose an accredited University or Institution.

Get Practical Experience

While you study, try and get vocational work, as this may assist you in getting a position as a Candidate Legal Practitioner. Many small and big law firms offer vocational work for law students.

The bigger law firms typically offer vacation work, and law firms that offer vacation work, normally have details thereof on their websites.

If you do vacation work, it will look good on your CV, and you will gain valuable knowledge in the practice of law.

Legal Practice Council (LPC)

The LPC regulates legal Practitioners in terms of section 4 of the Legal Practice Act, No 28 of 2014. They regulate and exercise jurisdiction over all Legal Practitioners, Attorneys, and Advocates, as well as candidate Legal Practitioners.

What is the difference between an Advocate and an Attorney?

The difference between a South African Attorney, and Advocate, mirrors that of a Solicitor and Barrister in the UK and Wales but it does not necessarily mean someone who is Welsh – (born in Wales) – just someone who studied there.

Both Attorneys and Advocates provide legal services, but they generally do it in different ways. Usually, Attorneys deal directly with the public and provide a wider variety of services while Advocates specialize in specific areas of the law.

The differences between Attorneys and Advocates are fast disappearing. This is because one of the main distinctions use to be, that Attorneys could not appear in the higher Courts, and Advocates may not have professional trust accounts.

Many Attorneys have chosen to become trial Attorneys over the last few years as Attorneys can obtain (after meeting specific requirements) a certificate authorizing them and giving them the right to appear in the Higher Courts of South Africa.

The Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 changed many of the distinctions between Attorneys and Advocates, and one of the most significant changes is that Advocates can now be admitted as Advocates with a Trust Account.  

Advocates work for their own accounts and cannot ‘own’ a practice with other Advocates; while Attorneys work in law firms.  A law firm can have many directors and (Attorney) owners.

Advocates join Chambers from which they independently work. It is generally referred to as joining the Bar.

Articles of Clerkship for aspiring Attorneys

After you have finalized your LLB degree, you need to work at a law firm. Your Principal will guide and train you to become an Attorney.

You must serve two years of articles for you to become an Attorney and attend part-time law school.

You can also serve your articles for one year if you attend full-time law school.

How difficult is it to get a job as an Attorney?

It is not easy to get a job as a Candidate Attorney as there is a lot of competition for Candidate Attorney positions.

There are a lot of things that you can do to make your CV stand out. If you have done vacation work, it may very well be beneficial for you to list this on your CV.

Most employers will require you to have your own car and a driver's license. This is a huge issue for many aspiring Attorneys as the salaries paid to Candidate Attorneys are very low, and they struggle to comply with this requirement.

I suggest that you maybe get a scooter as a lot of the smaller law firms cannot afford to hire you if you do not have a car. If you can demonstrate that you could get to Court and other places, you have already considerably improved your chances to get the job.

You must also ensure that your CV is well-drafted and error-free.

South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is the language used in Court. If you have grammar issues or if your CV is poorly drafted, your application will go to the back of the queue.

It also comes back to perseverance. You must accept that you will likely receive a lot of rejections before you get a position.

It is similarly crucial that you get a job at a law firm that will train you properly. I have heard a lot of complaints about law firms that simply use their Candidate Attorneys as messengers. Ask what training you will get when you go for the interview.

Never come across as desperate or needy.

You must also prepare for your interview. Look at your prospective employers' website and the type of law that they practice. During the interview, inform them that you have checked out their website and tell them why you are well suited for the position.

What to do after you have obtained your position as Candidate Attorney

You must ensure that your contract is registered with the Legal Practice Council (LPC) within two months of starting your articles. Also, list the starting date so that the entire period of articles is registered with the LPC.

You do not want to serve articles for three year, and only two years are registered because you registered your contract late!

How much money do Candidate Attorneys and Attorneys make?

Candidate Attorneys earn between R4 000 – R25 000 per month. The big law firms pay much higher salaries than the smaller and mid-size law firms.

Junior Attorneys can earn anything between R15 000 – R60 000 per month.

Partners and self-employed Attorneys earn (depending on their specialization and practice) up to R3 Million or more per annum.

Practical Legal Training (PLT) – Law School

The PLT Law School provides a postgraduate, vocational training course for law graduates.

LLB law graduates who successfully complete the PLT course, qualify for one year’s credit for their practical vocational training contract period (articles) as candidate attorneys.

Students can attend the course during the day or at night. The night school offers students that work during the day an opportunity to participate in the class still.

The course aims to supply students with practical skills that will benefit them as Candidate Attorneys, and it also exposes them to a broader variety of fields of law.

The course lasts approximately four months and is rather expensive to attend.

For more information on this, you can visit the LSSA School for Legal Practice or ask around at your University.

Board Exams

Finally, before you can be admitted as an attorney, you must pass the four board exams: Estates, Bookkeeping, Ethics, and Court Procedures.

These exams can be written twice a year, and you need to successfully pass all four exams before you can be admitted as an Attorney.

The last thing that you need to do is to apply to be admitted as an Attorney

After you comply with the requirements to become an Attorney, you must bring an official High Court Application to be admitted as an Attorney. A confirmatory affidavit must support your application. Your Principal will supply this affidavit.

Apprenticeship or Pupillage to become an Advocate

Advocates are primarily experts in presenting cases in Court, and they must be very persuasive. Advocates can automatically appear in all the South African Courts, from the Magistrates Courts, High Courts, Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.

After you have obtained your LLB degree, you must get admitted as an Advocate in the High Court, where after you will customarily join one of the South African Bars.

You will then work under an Advocate for a period of a year and learn from them during this period. You should not think of doing Pupillage as a job, as you do not get paid during this period. This is simply an opportunity to learn from a practicing Advocate.

It is necessary to complete your pupilage program successfully and for you to pass your National Bar Examination Board exam before you can practice from the Bar.

How much money do Advocates make?

When you do your Pupilage, you do not earn any salary. When you start your own practice, you must build your own reputation and get your own work in. It can be challenging in the first few years, but, as you grow your reputation and you become more senior, you can write your own salary.

Many of the top Advocates charge R50 000 per day! It takes many years of hard work and dedication to get to this level.

Attorney or Advocate?

You can see that even though Attorneys and Advocates practice differently that there is a significant overlap in their job functions.

Besides the academic and vocational training, other requirements must be met before you can be admitted, and you should read the relevant sections in the  Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 before you proceed. You should also get more information from the Legal Practice Council.

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