Is This You?

  • Are you an independent thinker?
  • Are you a confident and fluent speaker?
  • Do you like using language both to speak and to write?
  • Do your friends choose you to speak up for them?
  • Do you like to analyse problems and work out solutions?
  • Do you remain in control of yourself when you are angry?
  • Are you not easily intimidated?
  • Do you believe the strong should protect the weak?


What are Lawyers, Attorneys and Advocates?

  • All who earn their living engaged in practicing the law are called lawyers, including Judges, Magistrates, advocates, attorneys, and university lecturers.
  • There are two main branches of legal practitioners: attorneys, who do legal work of all kinds, and advocates, who are specialists.
  • Attorneys are the business managers of cases and they decide when an advocate is or is not necessary to be engaged to act for the clients. Advocates have no direct contact with clients. For this reason advocates are said to be in a ‘referral’ profession.
  • Attorneys are the lawyers that clients see first with their problems. Attorneys give general advice in the law.
  • Advocates (also called ‘counsel’) get ‘briefed’ to take on cases by attorneys when a specialist skill is needed in a court case or in research into the law.
  • Attorneys form professional companies and firms and practice in partnership with each other. Advocates are individuals practitioners and never form partnerships. Advocates may become members of ‘the Bar’.

What is the Bar?

  • The ‘Bar’ is the name traditionally used for Societies of Advocates.
  • There are 14 Bars affiliated to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa. Each Bar is an independent association governed by an elected Bar Council.
  • Codes of ethical conduct apply to every person who joins the Bar and these are enforced by the Bar Councils. An advocate who transgresses the law or the code of conduct may be expelled from the profession by way of an application to the High Court.
  • The codes regulate the ethical handling of a case, duties to the court, to attorneys, to clients and to other advocates, and the charging of fees which must be reasonable having regard to the financial capacity of the client and the complexity of the case.
  • Advocates who join the Bar ‘keep chambers’ together in ‘sets of chambers’ where they enjoy a collegial professional life.
  • Membership of the Bar offers the opportunity both to learn from experienced advocates, and in turn as an experienced advocate to pass on skills to newcomers; in this sense, the Bar is the training ground for new advocates.
  • Advocates are required to practice from chambers, and clients and attorneys usually call there to consult.
  • The most important value of the profession of advocacy is its uncompromising independence.
  • Advocates adhere to a “cab rank” rule which means that any person no matter how grievous a crime they are accused of, how poor or rich they may be or however unpopular they may be politically, is entitled to the services of an advocate, and it is unethical for an advocate who is available to take a case to refuse to do so because the advocate disapproves of the person’s acts or behaviour.
  • The Bar is committed to certain values set out in its vision statement:
    • The Bar identifies itself fully with the ideals, aspirations and challenges presented by the new democratic South Africa.
    • As a body of independent practitioners, the Bar is committed to providing specialised legal representation, at fair fees, to all persons who require such services.
    • By providing this representation, as well as facilities for the protection of human rights, access to justice for indigent persons and alternative dispute resolution, the Bar serves all the people of South Africa.
    • We shall continue to strive towards the attainment of justice for all according to the Rule of Law and to support reforms designed to achieve this goal.

The Bar is committed to:

  • The maintenance of an independent judiciary.
  • Ensuring that the Bar is representative of all sections of the South African population.
  • Providing greater access to justice by the expansion of legal services to all who require them whilst maintaining the high standard, professional integrity and independence which are established hallmarks of the Bar.

Where Do I Find Out More About The South African Bars?

The 14 Bars in South Africa are:

  • Johannesburg Society of Advocates
  • Pretoria Society of Advocates
  • Cape Bar Council
  • Society of Advocates of Kwa-Zulu Natal
  • Pietermaritzburg Bar Council
  • Free State Society of Advocates
  • Eastern Cape Society of Advocates
  • Port Elizabeth Society of Advocates
  • Society of Advocates Bhisho
  • North West Bar Association
  • Northern Cape Society of Advocates
  • Society of Advocates Mthatha
  • Polokwane Society of Advocates
  • Mpumalanga Society of Advocates

From Where Do Advocates Get Their Work?

  • Advocates do not receive ‘briefs’ directly from clients, and thus all their work is ‘referred’ to them by other lawyers.
  • Private sector practicing firms of attorneys ‘brief’ advocates on a case by case basis to do work.
  • The State Attorney, who represents Government Departments also ‘briefs’ advocates in a similar way.
  • The Legal Aid Board provides financial assistance to poor people who would not otherwise afford an attorney or an advocate, and sometimes with and sometimes without collaboration with private sector attorneys, the Legal Aid Board instructs advocates to do work.

What Exactly is the Work That an Advocate Does?

An advocate, as a specialist in courtcraft and legal opinions:

  • Uses verbal and writing skills to understand, to explain and to persuade.
  • Reads many documents and digests a lot of factual information.
  • Researches the law in books and on computer databases.
  • Uses listening skills to digest the stories told by clients in a consultation and to the evidence given by witnesses in court.
  • Diagnoses from the facts and the law what exactly is the question to be decided.
  • Drafts ‘pleadings’ which state in very careful terms what the issues are that the court or the arbitrator must decide.
  • Gives advice on problems and explains difficult choices to attorneys and to clients in ‘opinions’.
  • Negotiates with colleagues over the settlement or the conduct of cases.
  • Guides witnesses to give their evidence by asking questions and tests the truth and value of the evidence given by witnesses by cross-questioning them.
  • Drafts ‘arguments’ setting out the facts and law relevant to the decisions to be decided.
  • Argues a case for a client to persuade a Judge or Magistrate or Arbitrator.

What Are The Working Conditions of an Advocate ?

  • Attorneys who brief advocates to take on a case, work with advocates on the case, together with the client and witnesses.
  • Advocates work long hours, often at night and on the weekends.
  • Advocates often work under the pressure of urgency and have to make quick decisions.
  • Advocates must resist intimidation from opponents, and from Judges, Magistrates and Arbitrators.
  • Advocates must guard against being emotionally distressed by the problems of their clients so that they can be of real help in time of need.
  • Advocates must make strategic decisions and hard choices and take responsibility for the fate of those whom they represent.

Where Do Advocates Appear to Represent Their Clients?

  • The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg
  • Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
  • The High Courts in the large cities and towns of South Africa.
  • The Magistrate’s Courts in every district of South Africa.
  • The Land Claims Court in Johannesburg.
  • The Labour Court of South Africa, in the large cities of South Africa.
  • Arbitrations by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in the large cities and towns.
  • Specialist superior courts dealing with income tax, water affairs, patents and trademarks, unfair competition and other tribunals.
  • Private arbitrations.
  • South African advocates often appear in the courts of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Where Do I Get Training to Prepare Me to Practise as an Advocate?

  • A person who wants to practice as a lawyer, either as an attorney or an advocate, must undergo one year of vocational training before being permitted to practice as an independent professional lawyer.
  • Professional training to become an advocate is provided by the constituent ‘Societies of Advocates’ of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.
  • Pupillage, beginning on 15 January and ending 31 December, including an examination is a prerequisite to join the Bar.
  • During pupillage a pupil advocate will be paired with an experienced advocate to see firsthand how real work is carried out in chambers and in the courts. Pupillage is a learning experience, not a job, and is unpaid.
  • Pupillage consists of practical courtcraft, legal document drafting skills and procedural law.
  • At some Bars lectures on practice are given.
  • Information regarding pupillage and of the pupillage syllabus can be obtained from the Bars.

Is There Any Financial Assistance During the Period of Pupillage?

Limited Financial assistance is offered by the following:

  • General Council of the Bar – PO Box 786878, SANDTON, 2146.
  • Cape Bar – Huguenot Chambers, 40 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town 8000.
  • Johannesburg Bar – Ground Floor, Nedbank House, 2 Protea Place, Sandown.
  • Pretoria Bar – Private Bag X480, Pretoria 0001.

Enquiries can be made, when applying for pupillage, on the availability of funding.

What Is The Career Path Of An Advocate ?

  • To become an advocate you must be ‘admitted’ to the Roll of Advocates, a statutory register kept by the official of the High Court.
  • You must apply to the High Court, on affidavit, stating that you are honest, have not committed any criminal offences, have an LLB degree and are ‘fit and proper’ to be an advocate.
  • You must appear before the High Court to promise to uphold the Constitution, after which you may call yourself an advocate.
  • Members of the Bar are traditionally called junior counsel or senior counsel (‘silk’).
  • Silks usually appear with a junior counsel in large or difficult cases.
  • A ‘silk’ is an advocate of proven experience and skill, who after at least ten years of practice is appointed by the President of South Africa as a ‘senior consultus’ (SC). Each year the Bar Councils make recommendations about who should be appointed as silk.
  • A senior consultus traditionally wears a silk robe, different from those worn by junior counsel, and is for that reason called a ‘silk’. Silks are the leaders of the profession.
  • Although all practicing and academic lawyers are eligible to be appointed as Judges, most Judges appointed by the Judicial Services Commission are advocates because of their experience in the arts of courtcraft.

What Key Competencies Do I Need To Be A Successful Advocate ?

  • Confidence in yourself.
  • Excellent verbal skills, both oral and written, especially in the English language. Fluency in the other South African languages is a great advantage.
  • Excellent listening skills.
  • The capacity to concentrate to read voluminous documents.
  • The ability to extract from facts presented what is relevant and important.
  • A thorough understanding of how to use a law library and computer based research tools.
  • A high work ethic to cope with long hours and painstaking preparation.
  • A high sense of responsibility and accountability.
  • Uncompromising personal ethical standards.

The Bar Journal

The General Council of the Bar publishes a journal, ‘Advocate’. Advocate is the official journal of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa. It appears three times a year and its circulation includes all practising advocates, judges, and a large number of other lawyers, senior government officials, and politicians. It is also available on general subscription.
Tel: +27 (0)11 784-0175

What Qualifications Do I Need To Become An Advocate?

  • Either a four year LLB or a three year undergraduate degree (BA, BCOM, or a BSC) plus a two year LLB from any South African university.
  • Some Universities require matriculants to have ‘points’ to gain admission to the Faculty of Law. A list of law faculties in South Africa is given at where this information can be obtained.

How To Pay For My Studies?

  • All universities have a bursary scheme of one kind or another and other organisations also provide financial assistance for students of law.
  • Contact the university where you intend pursuing your studies for information on bursaries.

More Information

The following books provide information on the profession of advocacy and the work that advocates do:

  • The Law of South Africa Volume 14 – Butterworths.
  • Litigation skills for South African lawyers – C G Marnewick, Butterworths.
  • Morris’ Technique in Litigation, H Daniels, Juta.