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A Career in Law

The legal profession in South Africa offers a variety of career possibilities to the person interested in the field of law. All people who earn their living by practicing the law are called lawyers, including judges, magistrates, advocates, attorneys, and university lecturers.

This information was obtained from the Department of Justice.


Attorneys handle a large variety of affairs for individuals, businesses, associations and corporations. These include work in the field of business and corporate law; civil and criminal litigation; property transactions; taxation; estate planning; and business as well as personal advice. There are attorneys who specialise in either commercial or criminal cases, or who focus on litigation, estate planning or tax-related matters. Attorneys can now also appear in the High Court, just like advocates. To qualify to appear, an attorney must have an LLB degree, or some other appropriate legal qualification, plus three years’ experience.

By taking further examinations, an attorney may qualify as a conveyancer and/or notary public. Conveyancers prepare documents for the transfer of land and the registration of mortgage bonds and all other matters pertaining to immovable property. The work of a notary public is to draw up specialised documents such as contracts entered into prior to marriage (antenuptial contracts). An attorney may also take further examinations to qualify as patent attorney. Patent attorneys deal with the laws regarding the registration and protection of patents (a patent “may be granted for any new invention which involves an innovative step and which is capable of being used or applied in trade or industry or agriculture 

The attorneys’ admission examination, which is presented by the Law Society, must be successfully completed before admission to the profession. This examination is practice orientated and can only be written once the aspirant attorney has completed a period of six months service under articles of clerkship or a service contract (community service at a law clinic). Clerkships can be undertaken at law firms of any size. Law student who are interested in pursuing a career as an attorney are encouraged to apply for Clerkships from their penultimate year of LLB study. Alternatively the exam can be written once he/she has attended the full-time School for Legal Practice for a period of approximately six months.


Advocates are primarily experts in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court. This requires a mastery of law and fact, good judgement and the ability to present a case clearly and coherently. Advocates also give legal opinions and help with the drafting of legal documents that are required in every walk of life, be they commercial, industrial or domestic.

The basic requirement is an LLB degree from any South African university. Having achieved this, the next step is to apply to the High Court to be included on the ‘roll’ of advocates. To do this, an applicant must satisfy the court that he/she is both qualified and able to be a member of the profession. The applicant will then be able to practice as an advocate in South Africa. Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the ‘Bars’ (the representative body of the advocates' profession with the main purpose to maintain professional standards among its members). Professional training to become an advocate is provided by the constituent ‘Societies of Advocates’ of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.

A period of one year’s apprenticeship or pupillage including an examination is a prerequisite to join the Bar. A person will also have to pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar, which is a test of the person’s practical ability.

During pupillage, a pupil advocate will be paired with an experienced advocate to see how work is carried out in chambers and in the courts. Information regarding pupillage and of the pupillage syllabus can be obtained from the Bars. 

Legal Advisor

The term ‘legal advisor’ is used to describe lawyers employed by the government, big companies and other organisations to provide legal advice and service to their employees. In other words, ‘in-house’ lawyers or ‘corporate counsel’ as they are known in the USA, as compared to attorneys and advocates, who provide their services to the public at large rather than to a single employer.

Most legal advisors are in fact former attorneys or advocates who have chosen the corporate environment rather than the traditional legal profession. For this reason the requirements and training for legal advisors are the same as for advocates and attorneys.