Legal Profession

So, you’ve been watching SUITS and have decided to become a lawyer?  Who wouldn’t want to be the next Harvey Specter or Jessica Pearson – looking suave and glamorous, eating at the best restaurants, arguing fluently in court, and solving client’s problems? But is that really what a career as a lawyer is cut out to be? Let’s unpack this further!

So, you’ve been watching SUITS and have decided to become a lawyer?  Who wouldn’t want to be the next Harvey Specter or Jessica Pearson – looking suave and glamorous, eating at the best restaurants, arguing fluently in court, and solving client’s problems? But is that really what a career as a lawyer is cut out to be? Let’s unpack this further!.

The terms Lawyer and Attorney are used interchangeably in South Africa – both refer to a person who has successfully completed a law qualification, completed their practical vocational training and succeeded in passing the competency based examinations. More about that later.

An Advocate is different from a lawyer and is an expert in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court – much like Harvey Specter.

Pursuing a career in law requires commitment from the outset – to achieve the necessary qualifications and to work in the field. Lawyers often work long hours and are usually held to account for a high percentage of billable hours when they work in practice. Having a legal qualification does, however, equip you for several different opportunities, you don’t necessarily have to practice as a lawyer.

Law has an impact on just about every aspect of our lives and there are many different shapes that a career in law can take. You can choose to specialise in corporate law, criminal law, family law, environmental law, civil law, labour law, immigration law, tax law, constitutional law, social media law and more. You can also choose to become a legal advisor in just about any company or industry – many large corporates employ their own legal team to assist with all the legal and regulatory requirements to run a business.

  • To qualify as a lawyer, you need to enrol for and complete a four-year LLB degree, from an accredited South African law school.
  • You can also complete a BCom law, BA law or BSocSci plus LLB which will take five years.
  • Upon the successful completion of your law degree, you are required to work for a law firm as a candidate attorney for a period of two years. This is also known as your Practical Vocational Training (PVT). Within two months of commencing your PVT, your contract must be registered with the Legal Practice Council of the province in which you are working.
  • You are also required to complete the Practical Vocational Training Course – this is a compulsory course that teaches you legal skills and prepares you for the competency-based examinations.
  • Once you have completed six consecutive months of your Practical Vocational Training or the fulltime PVT Course, you are allowed to write your examinations. These can be written every March and August each year. There are four examinations to pass – Estates, Attorneys' Bookkeeping, Attorney’s Practice and Court Procedures. You have the option to choose when you want to write these but must pass all four.
  • With all the above completed, you are allowed to apply to the High Court to be admitted as an attorney.

Below are some of the additional requirements and attributes to be successful in the legal profession:

  • Hard working and committed
  • An enquiring mind
  • Articulate – both verbally and in the written form
  • High moral standing and solid values
  • Compassionate, with good judgement
  • Strong analytical and research skills
  • Driven & Resilient

 

Qualifications required

Entry-level qualifications

BA Law, BSocSci or B Com Law, followed by LLB (takes 5 years)

Or

A 3-year LLB stream if you choose to study law after completing a different (non-related) degree

Or

A 4-year LLB stream completed straight from Grade 12.

Association membership options

Legal Practice Council

 

Qualification

Institution/s

BA Law, BSocSci, BAccLLB B Com Law, or LLB

University of Cape Town

University of Venda

University of the Witwatersrand

University of Johannesburg

University of Pretoria

Stellenbosch University

Rhodes University

University of KwaZulu-Natal

North-West University

University of the Free State

University of the Western Cape

University of Fort Hare

University of Limpopo

Nelson Mandela University

IIE Varsity College

University of Zululand

University of South Africa

 

According to the South African Graduate Employer’s Association’s (SAGEA) Employer Benchmarking study of 2021, Candidate Attorney’s initial earning ranges between R365 000 – R400 000 per annum, if joining a medium to large firm.   

According to Business Tech, Associate Lawyers earn up to R700 000, with Senior Associates earning up to R1 200 000 per year.  Senior Partners may earn up to R5 000 000 per annum – depending on client base and experience.

Corporate lawyers are in fairly high demand, based on business activity in the South African economy – there is also significant demand for labour and criminal lawyers.

 

Sources:

https://jouloopbaan.solidariteit.co.za/en/

https://bursaries-southafrica.co.za/bursaries-for-law-students/

SAGEA Employer Benchmark Report, 2021

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