In South Africa, advocates play a crucial role within the legal system.  An advocate is an independent legal practitioner who specialises in litigation and advocacy in both judicial and non-judicial forums. Referral advocates do not engage directly with clients but are instructed by attorneys who refer cases to them for representation.

The role of an advocate in South Africa can be summarised as follows:

  • Specialised legal representation and litigation: Advocates are responsible for presenting their clients’ cases persuasively in court. This includes drafting court documents, , presenting evidence, examining and cross-examining witnesses and making oral and written argument.
  • Legal advice and opinion: While advocates primarily focus on court proceedings, they also provide legal advice and opinions to attorneys and clients regarding the merits of a case, potential legal strategies, and the possible interpretation of laws and regulations.
  • Legal research and preparation: Advocates conduct thorough legal research to build a strong case for their clients. They analyse statutes, case law, and legal precedents relevant to the matter at hand. Based on this research, advocates advise their clients and prepare court documents (pleadings, motions, heads of argument and the like) to make and support arguments in court.
  • Diverse representation: Advocates represent a wide range of clients, including individuals, businesses, government entities, and organizations. They may handle various types of cases, including criminal trials, civil disputes, administrative proceedings, and constitutional matters.
  • Upholding Ethical Standards: Advocates are bound by a strict code of professional ethics and conduct, which requires them to act in the best interests of their clients while upholding the integrity of the legal profession. They must adhere to principles of honesty, fairness, and respect for the rule of law. Advocates are officers of court and must at all times act in accordance with their duties to both their clients and the court by practicing in a manner that is consistent with this position. The ethical standards and independence of advocates is a source of professional pride to the Bar and guarantees against conflicts of interest.
  • Contributing to legal development: Through their participation in court cases and legal discourse, advocates contribute to the development of South African jurisprudence. Senior advocates may be conferred the status of Senior Counsel (SC) by the President of the Republic of South Africa as a mark of their outstanding skill and significant contributions to the profession. Also known as Silks, these advocates usually work on particularly complex cases.
  • Continuing professional development: Advocates engage in continuous professional development to stay abreast of changes in the law, legal practices, and court procedures. This may involve attending seminars, workshops, and legal conferences, as well as pursuing further education and training.
  • Transformation: Advocates, particularly those who are members of the GCB, are committed to the transformation of the legal profession. This is evident from the various transformation policies, programmes and initiatives, not only of the GCB but also its constituent Bars.

Overall, advocates play a vital role in the South African legal system by providing expert legal representation, upholding the principles of justice, and contributing to the evolution of the law. Their advocacy skills, legal expertise, and commitment to ethical standards are essential for ensuring access to justice and the fair resolution of disputes in South Africa.