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How to Become an Attorney in South Africa: Career Guide to Success

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How to Become an Attorney in South Africa: Career Guide to Success

To become an Attorney in South Africa one must follow a well-defined structured educational route and legal training.

This journey usually entails completing a law degree, participating in hands-on practical vocational legal training, and successfully passing the admissions examinations.

How to Become an Attorney in South Africa: Career Guide to Success

In this article we will be delving deeper into the specific stages that one must undergo to be an Admitted Attorney.

Brief Overview of The Legal Profession in South Africa

The legal field plays a vital role in South Africa by preserving justice and upholding legal principles.

Having a good understanding of the steps required for one to accomplish to become an attorney is vital for individuals aspiring to enter the legal field.

Therefore, one needs to have a comprehensive understanding of the educational and practical pre-requisites which are essential for navigating within the legal domain.

This overview will highlight the importance of comprehending the journey awaiting you in becoming a legal vessel in the South African law.

I. The Education Journey to Becoming an Attorney

Part A:  Requirements and Qualifications

1.     South African Attorneys Act 1979

The South African Attorneys Act of 1979 is a significant legislative framework which holds significant importance in overseeing the nation’s legal field.

It outlines the prerequisites as well as admission requirements for attorneys, it further stipulates the rights and responsibilities of an attorney and puts mechanisms in place which regulate the conduct of a persons in the legal industry.

Furthermore, the Act establishes the Attorneys Fidelity Fund to protect clients’ interests. This pivotal legal enactment influences the legal landscape in South Africa, guaranteeing an ethical benchmark in the legal vocation.

2.     LLB Degree

The LLB degree is a four-year undergraduate program which is offered by accredited law schools in the country.

It equips students with a comprehensive understanding of legal framework and principles governing the South African legal system preparing them to have a promising and fruitful future in their career in law.

3.     Alternative Paths: (A) Bachelor of Commerce With Law (BCOM) With An Additional Two Years Of Undertaking The LLB Program

An alternate approach to that one can take into becoming an attorney in South Africa is one which entails enrolling in a Bachelor of Commerce with Law (BCom) program, which is then followed by a two-year LLB course.

This integrated academic journey offers a unique perspective as it merges business and legal education, ultimately paving the way for a career in the legal arena.

4.     Foreign Degree Equivalency and Exceptions

When setting out on the path to becoming an attorney in South Africa, as a foreign student, your qualifications are evaluated through close comparison with domestic students.

The legal profession has specific instances of leniency; for example, seasoned foreign lawyers might be pardoned from certain criteria, enabling them to practice within more specific parameters.

Moreover, specialised fields within the legal industry such as conveyancing or notarial practice could entail distinct eligibility standards. It’s essential for one to understand these intricacies and seek advice from relevant authorities for guidance.

Part B: Curriculum and Subject Areas

1.     Overview of Essential Subjects

To become an attorney in South Africa, you’ll need to cover a range of essential subjects during your legal education.

Some of the subjects you will study are, Law of Contract, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Property Law, and Civil Procedure, and there are more.

Gaining a solid and basic understanding of these fundamental areas equips one with the legal knowledge required to navigate the complexities of the profession more effectively.

2.     Mandatory vs. Elective Classes

In the South African legal education, there are mandatory and elective classes. Mandatory classes are essential subjects which all law students must study as they form part of their curriculum.

These subjects are necessary to provide a comprehensive understanding of the legal system and principles.

The curriculum also consists of elective classes which are optional courses that students can choose based on their interests or what they would like to specialisation in.

These courses allow students to delve deeper into specific areas of law that align with their career goals.

The integration of both mandatory and elective classes ensures a well-rounded legal education that covers essential foundational knowledge while also accommodating personal preferences and career ambitions.

Gaining Real-World Experience

Part A:  Practical Training Requirements

Practical training is a crucial part in the legal education.

Once an individual has graduated and completed the academic requirements of an LLB or LLB equivalent degree, they will need to undertake a period of practical legal training.

This practical training can run for a duration of either one or two- years, of through of a clerkship program under the supervision of a qualified attorney or completion of a practical vocational training course.

The duration depends on one’s type of legal educational background and/ or previous legal experience.

This allows students who are fresh out of university to gain exposure in a more hands-on working environment where they will get to deal with real people and real complex legal cases.

The training consists of learning how to draft legal documents, conducting research, and interacting with clients.

This practical exposure is essential for developing the practical skills and insights which aid in moulding an excellent and competent attorney in the legal landscape.

Part B: Importance of Real-World Exposure

Real-world exposure is of paramount importance as it provides practical experience and valuable insights. The following are reasons as to why exposure is a crucial component in the practical training:

  • Assists with application of legal concepts.
  • Aids in development of practical skills.
  • Allows for better understanding of Legal Procedures.
  • Equips one with tools in client interaction.
  • Problem-solving abilities.
  • Builds a foundation for independent practice.

II. The Attorneys’ Admission Exam

Part A:  Purpose and Structure

It’s important to note that the topics covered in the admission exam are designed to assess your understanding of fundamental legal principles and your ability to apply them in practical scenarios.

The level of detail and complexity may vary, but the overall aim is to ensure that you have the necessary legal knowledge and skills to practice law competently and ethically. These are some of the topics which are covered:

1.     Estates, Wills, and Administration of Deceased Estates**: Principles of succession, drafting wills, intestate succession, and the administration of estates.

2.     Accounting: legal bookkeeping.

3.     Ethics and Professional Responsibility: Knowledge of the ethical rules and standards governing the legal profession, including client confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and professional conduct.

Part B: Preparing for The Exam

Important pointers and guidelines to remember and utilise when preparing for board exams are the following:

  • Understand exam format.
  • Create a study schedule.
  • Gather study materials.
  • Prioritise topics.
  • Practice past papers.
  • Attend Attorneys admission exam courses to aid in your preparations.
  • Always seek clarification from legal tutors, teachers just so you are clear on the material

III. Meeting Additional Statutory Requirements

Part A:  Establishing Moral Fitness

  • The legal profession requires one to be of high ethics, standards, trustworthiness, and good character. Moral fitness is established as follows:
    • Undergoing a character assessment: this will include all background information, disciplinary actions, which may affect your fitness.
    • Require you to submit references: character witnesses from people who can vouch that you are fit and proper. It could be your professor, supervisor, and employer.
    • Disclosure of all relevant information: information such as criminal records, any disciplinary, anything that might affect your role.

Part B: Interview and Screening Process

During the screening and interview process the candidate’s application is screened to ensure that they meet all necessary requirements including academic qualifications practical training completion and examination results

The candidate will be called in for an interview. This interview is typically conducted by the relevant persons in authority with the Provincial Law Society to assess suitability.

They are checked to see if they have a good understanding of legal principles and their ethical commitment to the profession is examined.

A character and fitness assessment will also be carried out to ensure that you are of good character and will uphold the profession to the utmost of your ability and in bona fide.

IV. Language Proficiency and Cultural Awareness

Part A. Importance of Language Skills

1.     Historical Language Requirements

Language has always played a significant role in the South African legal industry due to the country’s diverse linguistic landscape.

The following were the historic language requirements: English and Afrikaans were predominantly dominant in those days, and was used in the following periods/ instances:

  • Colonial Era and Apartheid
  • Legal Proceedings
  • Application of the Bantu Act of 1951

2.     Present-Day Language Considerations

The South African Constitution recognises all 11 official languages, as they are regarded as equally important and therefore are meant to be promoted and developed.

This allows individuals to have the right to use the language of their choice during legal proceedings, this also includes the right to interpretation if they do not understand the language used in court.

Part B. Cultural Sensitivity and African Customary Law

The concept of cultural sensitivity in relation to customary law, is to emphasise the need for legal practitioners, judges, and other legal bodies and stakeholders to approach cases concerning African customary law with an understanding of the cultural and traditional background of various communities.

Legal professionals and the judiciary are required to play an important role in navigating the complexities surrounding the multiple cultures, traditions and communities and in ensuring that the principles of justice and equality are always upheld.

V. Embarking on a Rewarding Career

Part A. Admission as an Attorney

Once you have passed the board examinations set up by the provincial Law Society you will then submit an admission application along with supporting documents such as proof of qualifications, completed practical training and certificate of good character.

After your application has been approved, you will be invited to attend the admission ceremony where you will take an oath and sign the roll of attorneys, officiating at your ceremony of you being admitted as an attorney of the High Court.

Lastly, you will receive a practicing certificate from the Legal Practice Council.

Part B. Diverse Legal Career Paths

There are various legal roles within the legal sphere, mentioned below are just a few examples:

  • Legal researcher
  • Legal consultant
  • Legal analyst
  • Legal technologist
  • Legal auditor

These roles can be carried out in law firms, big corporations, as well as the government sector.

Part C. Expected Earnings and Growth

1.     Junior Attorney to Senior Partner Salary Ranges

The salary for junior attorneys to senior partners in South Africa can vary based on factors such as experience, law firm size, location, and practice area.

  • Junior attorneys typically start with entry-level salaries, which can range from around R150,000 to R300,000 per year.
  • Senior attorney’s ranges between: R300,000 to R600,000 or more annually.
  • Partners salary ranges from R1.5 million to several million Rands annually.


2.     Potential for Career Advancement and Specialisation

As an attorney you can specialise in one field of practice, such as: family law, criminal law. Furthermore, attorneys can further branch out into the following in terms of their career routes:

  • In-house counsel
  • Judicial roles
  • Academic careers
  • Government and Public Service
  • International Opportunities
  • Consultancy and Mediation


In conclusion, the legal profession holds great significance in South Africa, serving as a cornerstone of justice and the rule of law.

Having a good understanding of the necessary steps that need to be followed to become an attorney is of paramount importance for those aspiring to join the esteemed field.

A thorough comprehension of the educational and practical requisites is also essential to begin one’s journey into the legal landscape.

This article has highlighted the critical value of understanding the journey that lies ahead for those seeking to become integral participants in the South African law field.

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