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The amount lawyers in South Africa earn is not formally regulated beyond provision of a code of conduct in the Legal Practice Act, 28 of 2014, that regulates the ethical conduct of lawyers professionally, their monetary transactions, and how they should handle their fees. 

This article covers:

  • What is a lawyer?
  • Attorneys must have LLB degrees
  • Advocates must also have an LLB degree
  • LLB degree holders’ salaries
  • Salaries not cast in stone

How much lawyers earn is largely influenced by the sector in which they are working – whether they in the private or public sector – and whether they are self-employed or employed by someone else. Salaries are generally subject to  a number of factors such as the size of the law firm, or employer and industry remuneration trends.

What is a lawyer?

A lawyer is basically almost anyone who operates in the legal profession. Included in this definition is a legal professional who has a Bachelor of Laws (LLB degree) and who is practising law.  Advocates and attorneys are also lawyers. However, a lawyer is not necessarily an advocate or attorney (Van der Merwe, 2022).

The main distinction that has to be made is that there are two main career paths available to lawyers that make them “beginner lawyers’’, namely the route of being either an attorney or an advocate.

Attorneys must have LLB degrees

To qualify as an attorney, you need to have an LLB degree, have completed two years of articles of clerkship, and be admitted as an attorney by the High Court of South Africa.  

Candidate attorneys usually earn a low salary during their two years of articles (Van der Merwe, 2022).

An important part of becoming an attorney is to write the four attorneys’ admission exams:

  • Paper 1: Court Procedures
  • Paper 2: Administration of Estates
  • Paper 3: Attorney’s Practice (Ethics)
  • Paper 4: Accounting

Advocates must also have an LLB degree

Advocates, who must also hold LLB degrees, are experts in presenting and arguing cases in court.  They are generally self-employed and are usually, but not necessarily, members of the bar council in their area.

After joining the bar, advocates can join an advocate group that generally has office space, a library and a receptionist, and rent an office in their quarters.

Advocates who are doing pupillage are not paid at all during the 12 months of this apprenticeship.

The Legal Practice Council  has widened the number of bar councils and voluntary lawyers’ associations that can provide recognised training to aspiring advocates. They are:

  • Law Society of South Africa 
  • Black Lawyers Association 
  • General Council of the Bar and its bars
  • National Forum of Advocates
  • National Association of Democratic Lawyers
  • Pan African Bar Association of South Africa
  • National Bar Council of South Africa 

During training, income varies from none in the case of advocates to a stipend or a salary in the case of candidate attorneys.

LLB degree holders’ salaries

The most current reliable breakdown of entry-level LLB degree holders’ salaries is found in the Robert Walters Annual Salary Survey of 2022:

Commerce and industry – in-house counsel
General counsel R1,000,000  – R3,500,000
Junior counsel R500,000 – R700,000
Legal counsel R750,000 – R950,000
Senior legal counsel R1,000,000 – R1,400,000
Financial services – in-house counsel
General counsel R2,300,000  – R3,500,000
Junior counsel R400,000 – R650,000
Legal counsel R650,000 – R950,000
Senior legal counsel R900,000 – R1,400,000
Private practice
Associate R650,000 – R850,000
Newly qualified R580,000 – R650,000
Partner R1,400,000 – R2,200,000
Senior associate R850,000 – R1,400,000
Senior partner R2,000,000 – R3,500,000

(Robert Walters Annual Salary Survey, 2022)

Salaries not cast in stone

The income of beginner lawyers in South Africa varies according to a number of factors such as whether one is self-employed, in training, and the size of the employing organisation. While this is not cast in stone, a “beginner lawyer’’ in South Africa may earn in the range of R500,000 to R700,000 a year in formal employment. The amount for those in self employment or who own their own practices is not defined.


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Advocate Kevin Malunga LLM, LLB Academic Head: Bachelor of Laws Regenesys Business School

Author Kevin Malunga

Advocate Kevin Malunga LLM, LLB Academic Head: Bachelor of Laws Regenesys Business School

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