Advocates assume a pivotal role within the South African legal framework, tasked with representing clients in courts and other fora, providing expert legal advice, and actively contributing to the facilitation of justice administration. If you:

  • Are you an independent thinker;
  • Are a confident and fluent speaker or skilled orator;
  • Enjoy speaking and writing;
  • Have a keen dedication to justice;
  • Enjoy analysing and solving problems;
  • Are not easily intimidated; and
  • Have an unwavering commitment to effecting change,

you should consider pursuing a career as an advocate and member of the General Council of the Bar (GCB).

Required qualifications and skills to be considered for membership at the GCB

Membership of the GCB offers a diverse profession which welcomes individuality and seeks to recruit the brightest talent, irrespective of background. The journey to becoming an advocate begins with the minimum qualification of an LLB degree. This is a law degree, completed in no less than four years from a recognised university. The LLB program equips you with foundational knowledge in legal principles and practices. During your studies, you will delve into various aspects of the law from all different sectors, including constitutional law, criminal law, commercial law, contract law, and many more. In addition to the substantive and theoretical aspects, you will develop essential skills such as legal research, writing, and critical thinking – skills which would hold you in good steads for a career as an advocate and member of the GCB.

If you intend on joining the GCB directly from University, you will need to apply during your final year of your studies to do pupillage at one of the constituent Bars of the GCB, for intake of pupils for the following year. Alternatively, you can pursue other careers in the legal sphere to gain some experience, and apply at a later stage to commence pupillage. Some of these options include applying to be a candidate attorney and commence articles of clerkship for a two-year period, whereafter you may be admitted as an attorney after doing practical vocational training and exams; alternatively you may apply to be a Judge’s registrar, or even a member of the National Prosecuting Authority. Whilst some pupils are accepted straight out of varsity, work experience when applying for pupillage will be beneficial from both an experience and client building perspective.

Apart from the qualifications, programmes, vocational training and examinations (dealt with under the ‘SA Legal System’ tab), you would be required to possess the following skills to enter the profession:

  • The ability to research.
  • Excellent writing skills with the ability to express the facts, legal points and arguments on behalf of a client.
  • Advocacy skills, being the art of persuasion.
  • The ability to orate and communicate with a wide range of different people, which people will include your clients that you represent, your attorneys that instruct you, colleagues that you work with, Judges and other presiding officers and court staff.
  • Excellent time management skills.
  • Legal and commercial awareness.
  • Problem solving skills, particularly the ability to apply analytical thinking to resolve issues on behalf of your client.
  • The ability to work under pressure; and
  • As a self-employed professional, you will require self-motivation, discipline, stamina and determination.

The process of becoming an advocate

After passing the first hurdle of successfully obtaining an LLB degree, candidates may apply for admission into a pupillage programme at one of the constituent Bars of the GCB. Pupils will be notified in the latter part of the year in which their applications were made, whether their applications were successful or not. The pupillage program will start in January for a period of 12 months.

During the pupillage period, aspiring advocates gain hands-on experience by working under the mentorship of an established and experienced advocate, also known as a mentor. This period allows you to apply your knowledge in real-world scenarios, develop practical skills, and deepening your understanding of legal practice. It is a crucial step toward becoming a competent advocate. You will then complete a year of training in the pupillage programme.

In addition, a pupil will be required to attend to lectures and trial advocacy training and successfully pass, depending on the category of pupil, a series of written examinations.

The difference between attorneys and advocates

Whilst both professions are classified as legal practitioners in terms of the Legal Practice Act, 28 of 2014 (LPA), there is a difference between an advocate legal practitioner and an attorney legal practitioner.

Attorneys are legal practitioners, who are client facing. In essence, they are the first port of call for a client with a legal issue. They consult with their clients, provide legal advice, and draft and review legal documents. They often specialise in specific areas of the law, such as family law, commercial law, tax law, criminal law, labour law, intellectual property law, etc.

While both attorneys and advocates may appear in court, advocates, by the nature of the profession, are specialists in litigation. They usually are the legal professional who advances their client’s case in court and other proceedings. Advocacy training, which forms part of the pupillage programme, aims to equip practitioners with the required skill set to conduct and argue a matter in court or other fora.

Referral advocates cannot accept work directly from the public,instead they are briefed by attorneys. The LPA provides for two categories of advocates – referral advocates in terms of section 34(2)(a)(i) of the LPA and Fidelity Fund advocates in terms of section 34(2)(a)(ii) of the LPA. Fidelity Fund advocates may take instructions directly from a member of the public.

Like attorneys, advocates may specialise in a field of law. Some of the the areas of law that an advocate can specialise in include:

  • Administrative law.
  • Arbitration.
  • Banking and finance.
  • Civil and general litigation.
  • Company law.
  • Contract law.
  • Insolvency law.
  • Insurance law.
  • labour law.
  • Matrimonial and family law.
  • Medical negligence.
  • Personal injury.
  • Property law.
  • Tax law.
  • Third party claims.

What to expect – professional development, remuneration and working hours

An important consideration in any profession is whether it will be financially rewarding. Whilst it is impossible to generalise what advocates typically earn, as each operate as a sole practitioner, the simplistic approach is “the harder you work – within the ethical confines of the rules – the more you earn”. Simply put, you will reap the fruits of your labour.

The earning capacity of an advocate is directly related to how many hours you are prepared to put in, as advocates are remunerated for their time and skill. Having a busy practice can be rewarding.

The nature of the work that an advocate attends to includes consultations with clients, drafting of legal documents, such as pleadings and affidavits, legal opinions, preparation for a hearing and the attendance at court.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid, the journey is a constant learning experience, and one can expect incredible professional growth from the profession.

A major benefit as an advocate is the satisfaction of resolving an issue for a client.

Becoming an advocate in South Africa demands dedication, hard work, and a commitment to justice. By following these steps and acquiring the necessary qualifications, you’ll contribute to a fair and equitable legal system. Whether you’re passionate about criminal law, human rights, or commercial litigation, the path to advocacy awaits you.

Becoming a member of the General Council of the Bar

The Bar is the name traditionally used for societies of advocates. There are presently 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. An example would be the Johannesburg Society of Advocates.

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. Such codes regulate the ethical handling of a case, duties to the court, to attorneys, to clients and 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.

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 adhere to a the cab-rank rule which means that any person no matter how grievous a crime they are accused of, how poor or rich they may, 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 refused 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; and
  • The Bar 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 also committed to:

  • Ensuring that the Bar is representative of all sections of the South African population; and
  • 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.

The 14 South African Bars consist of:

  • 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; and
  • Mpumalanga Society of Advocates.

Working conditions of an advocate

Advocates work for themselves and thus are able to regulate their own working hours. Advocates are required to work long hours, often including late nights and on the weekends. There is often pressure to make quick decisions. Advocates are required to detach themselves from the emotional realities of their clients as well as resist intimidation from opponents, Judges and other presiding officers. An advocate is, in essence, the captain of the ship and needs to make the necessary decisions to navigate their client’s case in order to bring the matter to finality.