Ever thought about changing the world? A remarkable number of world leaders have been lawyers who have gone on to do just that. More than half the US’s 44 presidents to date held a law degree. Others include South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, India’s Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher (a former tax lawyer) and Tony Blair of the UK, as well as China’s Xi Jinping. (Cuba’s Fidel Castro studied law but did not finish his doctorate.)
And then there’s South Africa’s Mervyn King SC, whose work on good governance and the triple bottom line has changed accountability for big business and governments worldwide, shifting the focus from profit for a few to responsibility for sustainability and equitable prosperity for all.
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THIS ARTICLE COVERS:
- Law careers
- Who is regarded as a legal practitioner
- Attorneys and advocates
- Admission as an attorney
- Admission as an advocate
- What your LLB degree must cover
According to the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), South Africa’s umbrella professional body for legal practitioners, South Africa has about 30,000 practising attorneys and nearly 6,000 candidate attorneys.
Most, in their law careers, have acquired skills such as public speaking and debate, inductive reasoning, coping with stress, and have deep integrity – all important leadership skills and traits. It should not be surprising, then, that so many global leaders have started out as lawyers.
Who is regarded as a legal practitioner
Anyone who earns a living from practising law is a lawyer, or legal practitioner – judges, attorneys, advocates, magistrates, prosecutors, notaries, conveyancers, academics, and legal advisors to private and public institutions. So what do they do?
Attorneys and advocates
- Attorneys and advocates are lawyers who have permission from the High Court to:
- Represent people in court or at tribunals, or other similar bodies;
- Draw up or execute documents relating to or for use in legal proceedings;
- Provide legal advice; and
- To be paid for doing so.
Attorneys may provide services in one or two specialised fields such as commercial property, tax, corporate and business law, civil or criminal law, intellectual property law, maritime law, or across a range of fields, say family, matrimonial, and divorce law. These services generally relate to administrative and preparatory work in litigation (Wildenboer, 2010). They are first in the line of protection for anyone who has a legal problem and needs help. They may also work in commerce, overseeing contracts and advising organisations to ensure that they operate within the law, and in complex situations such as mergers and acquisitions and international trade.
Advocates are masters of argument, have specialist forensic skills (Wildenboer, 2010) and represent clients in the High Court. They may not appear in court unless they have been briefed by an attorney. Until recently only advocates were permitted to represent clients in the High Court, but now attorneys with three years’ experience may also appear in the High Court (LSSA, 2022).
Notaries – more properly, notaries public – specialise in drafting, legalising and authenticating documents such as power of attorney, marriage status, articles of incorporation and commercial invoices, certifying background checks, and witnessing deeds of cession of usufruct and deeds of servitude, among other things.
Conveyancers are attorneys who specialise in the transfer of immovable property. They are the only professionals permitted by law to prepare and execute such deeds for registration in the deeds registry. They must be conversant with all land registration legislation, common law and conference resolutions, and are duty-bound to protect the interests of their clients.
Before you can become a conveyancer, you must be admitted to practice as an attorney.
Admission as an attorney
To be permitted to practice as an attorney – an officer of the court – you must:
- Be 21 or older;
- A South African citizen or permanent resident;
- Hold a four-year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from South Africa or, if qualified in another country, hold five-year equivalent law degree recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority;
- Have completed practical vocational training requirements as a candidate legal practitioner, serving 24 months as an articled clerk or in a law clinic community service contract;
- Have completed a practice management course; and thereafter
- Pass the Legal Practice Council attorney’s admission examination; and
- Be regarded by the Law Society and the High Court as a “fit and proper person” – an honest person of proven integrity (Law Society of South Africa, 2016).
Admission as an advocate
To register as advocates, you would need to fulfill the same requirements as attorneys, but instead of writing an attorney’s admission exam write an advocate’s admission exam, and indicate to the High Court whether you intend to practice with or without a Fidelity Fund certificate.
To be admitted to a bar association – a society that provides support and fraternity for advocates, who consider their livelihood a calling rather than a profession – you would have to serve a year’s pupillage (apprenticeship), in which you would be prepared by an experienced advocate “for the rigours of practice” and coached in professional standards, ethics, integrity and conduct (PSA, 2022).
What your LLB degree must cover
It’s worth noting that – no matter what you eventually intend to specialise in – the LSSA requires your LLB degree to cover:
- Constitutional practice;
- Professional legal ethics;
- Personal injury claims;
- High court practice;
- Magistrate’s court practice;
- Criminal court practice;
- Labour dispute resolution;
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Attorneys’ bookkeeping;
- Wills and estates;
- Matrimonial law;
- Legal costs;
- Drafting contracts;
- Information and communication technology for your practice, and associated aspects of cyber law; and
- Introduction to practice management.
Note that as an advocate, you will practice alone. Attorneys, however, may open their own practices, join firms as professional, junior or senior attorneys or advisors, or teach law. While some may go on to become judges, all will work to ensure that justice is served … and help to change the world.
- Law Society of South Africa. (2016). Career Guide to the Legal Profession.
- Law Society of South Africa. (2022). Becoming a legal practitioner.
- Salmon, O. (2020). Law Made Simple.
- Pretoria Society of Advocates (PSA), 2022. Advocacy as a career.
- Wildenboer, L. (2010). The origins of the division of the legal profession in South Africa: a brief overview. Fundamina 16(2) 199-225.