Steps to Becoming an Attorney in South Africa 2024

Steps to Becoming an Attorney in South Africa

Steps to Becoming an Attorney in South Africa 2022
Steps to Becoming an Attorney in South Africa 2024

The essential processes to becoming an attorney in South Africa are explained in this article for prospective legal practitioners. Many law students glide through university and are overwhelmed when their degrees are completed and all of their peers appear to have landed high-paying jobs.

The distinction between those who are accepted and those who are rejected often comes down to preparedness. You are not even in the race until you grasp the professional route.

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1. Studying to become an attorney in South Africa – LLB

Once you’ve resolved that law is good for you (if you’re not sure, see “Is law right for you? “), you’ll need to enroll in an LLB program, which takes 4 to 5 years to complete. If you want to work as an attorney at one of the prominent legal firms, you’ll have to put in a lot of effort from the start because marks matter in the competitive world of law.

2. Vacation work at a law firm

Work during vacations and as a shadow should be found as soon as possible. Most of the larger law firms, on the other hand, only hire students in their final year of law school for summer work. During the July or December holidays, these employment normally last a week or two. Vacation work is available at most of the leading companies. It is a great opportunity to experience a professional law environment and to network with existing attorneys. It also looks good on your CV and the contacts you make may help you secure articles later on.

3. Articles of clerkship (“Law articles”)

You must complete two years of law articles in order to be admitted as an attorney. During that time, you will work as a “candidate attorney” in a law firm under the supervision of an attorney. GoLegal features a publisher’s directory that lists various legal firms where articles can be written.

Alternatively, an aspiring lawyer can do 1 year full time PLT course, and 1 year of articles. See point 8 below.

4. CV and cover letter

For the duration of your search for holiday job and articles, your CV and cover letter will speak for you. It is worthwhile to devote some time to them and to pay them special attention. A excellent CV cannot make up for a poor academic record, and a good academic record cannot make up for a CV that is poorly written and presented. Keep it professional and to the point. Avoid extravagant language and do not try sound overly academic. If English is not your first language then get someone to check it for you. You have one chance to make a first impression with a good cover letter and CV.

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5. Interview Skills

Interviews need not be as difficult as they are made out to be. A few simple guidelines can take you a long way:

  • Dress well. Not to flashy but wear a clean well fitted suit.
  • Show the firm that you are responsible. Emphasize your position as the head of the debating/chess/library club. It can be in your favour to come across as conservative because this indicates that you are focused and career orientated. Law firms like this.
  • Most importantly, be ambitious. A candidate who seems eager to start working and adding value to the firm is hard to resist. Tell them why you want to be a lawyer; money, prestige, stability, power. Better to seem too greedy than meek or idealistic.
  • Prepare for the interview questions.

6. What if you do not find articles

Finding articles can be difficult. But do not despair, there are a number of options open to you. Keep regular tabs on our Job board section in which law firms may list their vacancies for law articles. Review your CV and interview techniques and continue to apply to as many firms as you need to ( Also look at our events calendar for the opening and closing dates of the various firms for applications to do articles.

You might also consider applying for articles at the public prosecutor or at a legal clinic. Although not considered as prestigious as working for a law firm, the experience might be better, and the environment could prove more interesting and enjoyable. You also have the option of beginning your practical legal training (see our discussion on PLT below). This will buy you time and keep you busy while you are searching for law articles. Another option is to join the Bar and become an advocate, or applying for a job at a bank, insurance company or some other institution that recruits junior legal consultants. There is nothing to stop you from applying for articles while working at another job.

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Finally, you can continue to study thereby giving yourself more career options. Apart from doing an honours subject in a legal field of your choice, business diploma’s such as a PDM tend to work well with LLB degrees. Having an additional degree or diploma will not only make you more attractive to law firms, but it will give you work options outside of the traditional attorney career path.

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7. Doing your time

When you commence your articles it is important to register your contract with the relevant law society within 2 months of starting, otherwise you will not be registered as candidate attorney and your time spent working will not be recognized by the court when you apply to be admitted as an attorney. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR PRINCIPLE to register your articles in time even though it is his or her duty. Phone the law society of the province you work in and find out exactly what needs to be done to register your articles. Generally the process involves sending your employment contract to the law society together with a registration fee and a cover letter. Do this as early as possible.

The most important relationship you will have in the next two years, is the one between you and your principle, so work at it. Open good channels of communication and learn to set boundaries so that you do not get taken advantage of. Keep in touch with your friends from law school who are doing articles, you will need each other for advice and moral support. And finally, in order to succeed as a candidate attorney, be prepared to work really hard.

8. Practical Legal Training (PLT)

Before being admitted as an attorney, every prospective attorney must undergo a mandatory course in practical legal training. The goal of the course is to teach you important legal skills and prepare you for board exams. Some large corporations offer a “in-house” PLT education. Everyone else should contact their local bar association. They will tell you where the course may be taken and when it can be completed. You can choose between the extended course, which lasts 5 months full time, and the condensed course, which lasts about 5 weeks full time or 5 months part time (2 evening per week or 1 full day per week).

If you do the full time 5 month course you are entitled to reduce your articles by 1 year. This option is becoming increasingly popular but be advised that many law firms are reluctant to employ a candidate attorney for only 1 year. Nevertheless it is an option worth considering if the thought of 2 years of articles gives you cold shivers.

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9. Attorneys’ Admission Examination

It’s time to take your Attorneys’ Admission Examination when you’ve completed your PLT course. Attorneys’ Admission Exams are normally taken in February and August of each year. You can choose which of the four examinations you want to take and when you want to take them. For example, you may schedule two tests in August of your first year of studies and the remaining two in February of your second year. Some people prefer to write all four of them at the same time. It is entirely up to you, and we do not endorse one method over another. The bookkeeping and wills and estates exams are particularly tough for people who do not have an accounting background. There are independent lecturers who offer extra lessons in these subjects and if the teacher is reputable then we recommend that you sign up.

10. Get admitted as an attorney

After you’ve finished your articles and passed all of your board tests, you can petition to the court to be admitted as an attorney. This procedure necessitates the filing of a formal high court application. A notice of motion must be filed in court, together with an affidavit, and an advocate must be briefed to move the application on the specified date. Although your law firm should handle the entire process for you, we recommend that you take an active role in ensuring that your principle completes it accurately and on time.

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Now you have to ask yourself – Is law really for me? If you don’t want to work for a law firm, there are several career paths that a modern lawyer can take.

Steps to Becoming an Attorney in South Africa 2024

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