DO YOU WANT TO BE AN ADVOCATE?
- 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?
- Are you a hard worker capable of working under demanding time-frames and for long hours?
- Do you handle stress and challenges well, confident in your own ability?
If these are features that describe you, then you are likely to find being an advocate a challenging and rewarding career.
Advocates and Attorneys … What is the difference?
All persons who earn their living engaged in practising the law are called lawyers, including Judges, Magistrates, advocates, attorneys, and university lecturers.
The practising legal profession is divided into two branches: attorneys (sometimes referred to as lawyers) and advocates. 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; that is, the attorney will refer a client to the advocate for specialist advice when that advice and/or representation in court is required. Attorneys are the lawyers that clients see first with their problems. 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.
Sometimes the differences are described as follows for the purposes of illustration. Think of them in terms of a doctor and a specialist. The attorney, like the doctor, is the person with whom you first make contact when you have a legal problem. Therefore, an attorney needs to be readily accessible to everyone, and the service he or she supplies needs to be broad enough to cover a wide field of legal problems. This means that in general, attorneys are not always able to provide specialist service in every field of law in which they may be asked to act. Advocates, like medical specialists, have specialised expertise in various areas of the law, especially in the presentation of cases in court. To obtain the services of an advocate, the client approaches the attorney who then engages the advocate on her behalf, to represent her in court or advise her as necessary.
Attorneys and advocates also have different professional and institutional arrangements. Attorneys (who fall under the auspices of the Law Society of South Africa) form professional companies and firms and practise in partnership with each other. Advocates (who fall under the auspices of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa) 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 ten Bars affiliated to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa. Each Bar is an independent association governed by an elected Bar Council.
Advocates are organised into societies in the major centres in South Africa. These are known historically as “Bars”, which are in essence fraternities of men and women who practise as advocates in the centres where the Bars are situated. As the body representing the advocates’ profession, the purpose of the Bar is to maintain professional standards and conduct among practising advocates, and sometimes to enforce discipline amongst its members. It also provides training for aspiring advocates at the beginning of their careers. Members are always ready to assist one another and it is not unusual for the most junior member of the Bar to approach a senior member with any problem of practice that he might encounter. The Bar enforces a strict code of ethical conduct and professional integrity to which advocates are required to adhere.
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.
The most important value of the profession of advocacy is its uncompromising independence. The Bar is committed to certain values set out in its vision statement.
o The Bar identifies itself fully with the ideals, aspirations and challenges presented by the new democratic South Africa.
o 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.
o 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.
o 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:
o The maintenance of an independent judiciary.
o Ensuring that the Bar is representative of all sections of the South African population.
o 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.
What does an Advocate do?
Advocates are primarily experts in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court. Until 1994, only advocates were allowed to present cases in the courts which were then known as the Supreme Courts and the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein. Attorneys may now also appear in the newly named High Courts and the Supreme Court of Appeal as well as the Constitutional Court. The vast majority of cases in these courts are, however, still presented by advocates. This requires a mastery of law and the facts of the case, good judgment and the ability to present a case clearly and coherently. It means an advocate must conscientiously prepare every case, by reading, seeking advice and clearly defining the issues which need decision. Advocates also give legal opinions and help with the drafting of legal documents that are required in every walk of life, be it constitutional, commercial, industrial or domestic. An important part of the advocate’s work is providing legal assistance to needy clients by way of PRO DEO, PRO BONO and AMICUS CURIAE appearances in court. What these mean is working for the good of society at reduced rates and in some cases without remuneration.
By no means a complete list, the following are the types of work an advocate will be engaged in and skills she will require:
- 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.
From where does an Advocate get work?
Save for certain specific exceptions Advocates do not receive “briefs” directly from clients, and thus all their work is “referred” to them by other lawyers. An advocate may receive her brief from a variety of different sources:
- Private sector practising 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.
Why is the work of Advocates important?
Legal representation in the courts is a fundamental right of all South Africans. It is vital that such representation should come from as broad a cross section of our South African society as possible. This service is essential as every citizen, rich or poor, weak or powerful, is entitled to have her rights protected in the courts, whether that be protection in criminal cases, or unjust or unlawful treatment in civil cases. It is also essential in the establishment of a just and fair society. It is the advocate’s duty to use her expertise to ensure that people’s freedom is in no way compromised, nor their rights denied. An important tradition which exists at the Bar is the obligation on advocates to take all work offered to them, provided that they are available to do it and that the work falls within their area of expertise. Advocates thus 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. In this way, everyone has access to the best available services, irrespective of the merits of the case, and regardless of who the client is and what public opinion might say about that client.
What are the rewards of becoming an Advocate?
Advocacy is a career that gains great respect from the community. Through its service to fellow citizens, it offers a sense of personal satisfaction not easily found in other career choices. In addition, the financial benefits are comparable to those enjoyed by most other professions. When advocates have reached a particular level of experience in practice, they are entitled to apply to the President for appointment as “senior counsel”. These senior advocates are usually referred to as “silks” due to the different type of court gown that they are entitled to wear. Judges of the High Court are often appointed form the ranks of senior counsel. One of the most important functions of the Bar is, therefore, to serve as a training ground for a career on the High Court Bench. Can you see yourself serving society as a judge one day? Why not?
What are the challenges of being 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 including 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. They have to guard against being emotionally distressed by the problems of their clients so that they can be of real help in time of need – and bring their objective legal abilities to bear on the problem at hand. Advocates must make strategic decisions and hard choices and take responsibility for the fate of those whom they represent.
How do I become an Advocate?
The basic requirement is an LLB degree of any South African University (you will need 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).
Having achieved this, the next step is to apply to the High Court to be included on the “roll” of advocates. To do this, you must satisfy the court that you are both qualified and able to become a member of the profession. You will then be able to practise as an advocate in South Africa. Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the Bars to benefit from the strong collective spirit and experience of the fraternity. Before admission to the Bar, you will have to serve an apprenticeship (called a pupillage) of one year. You will also have to pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar, which is a test of your practical ability. Professional training to become an advocate is provided by the constituent “Societies of Advocates” of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, and pupillage begins on 15 January and ends on 31 December of each year. During pupillage a pupil advocate will be paired with an experienced advocate to see first hand 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 at the KZN Bar is available on this site
What key competencies do I need to be a success as an 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.
Where do I found out more about the Bar?
Further queries of any nature will be answered by writing to or telephoning:
The Executive Secretary
General Council of the Bar of South Africa
P O Box 2260
Tel: + 27 (0)11 337-4498
Fax: + 27 (0)11 336-8970
You can also e-mail the General Council at firstname.lastname@example.org
Apart from the KwaZulu-Natal Bar, the constituent Bars of the General Council of The Bar are:
- The Bisho Bar, Bisho.
- The Cape Bar, Cape Town.
- The Eastern Cape Bar, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth.
- The Free State Bar, Bloemfontein.
- The Johannesburg Bar, Johannesburg. www.johannesburgbar.co.za
- The North West Bar, Mafeking.
- The Northern Cape Bar, Kimberly.
- The Pretoria Bar, Pretoria. www.pretoriabar.co.za
- The Transkei Bar, Umtata.
The General Council of the Bar publishes a journal, “Advocate”.
Subscription enquiries to Jutalaw.cserve@Juta.co.za; or P.O. Box 24299, Landsdowne 7779
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, (4th ed) H Daniels, Juta.
Parts of this article were adapted from a brochure called, “A Career as an Advocate,” published by the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, for the information of those considering a career as an advocate.