Advocate and Attorney

The practising legal professions are divided into two branches, namely attorneys and advocates. An attorney is the person with whom one first makes contact when seeking legal advice. Advocates have specialised expertise in various areas of the law, especially in the presentation of cases in court.

Attorneys give advice to clients regarding their rights and obligations on matters relating to the law. They serve a variety of clients including business organizations, local authorities, the government and individuals.

Advocates are primarily experts in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court. Whereas in the past, only advocates were permitted to present cases (appear) in the higher courts and in the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein, attorneys were granted right of appearance in the high and constitutional courts as from 1 November 1995. (Right of Appearance in Court Act 62 of 1995).

Attorneys have different areas of specialisation, however, most are involved with basic activities relating to the representation of clients both in civil and criminal cases. In civil cases an attorney may assist a client with contracts, leases, wills and trusts. In criminal cases an attorney may act on behalf of a client charged with a criminal offence. In every case an attorney needs to consult the client to determine the nature of the problem and to give advice.

Areas of specialisation may include the following:

• Business and Corporate Law
• Civil and Criminal Litigation
• Property Transactions
• Taxation
• Estate Planning and Business
• Patent Law
• Personal Advice

Advocates also give legal opinions and help with the drafting of legal documents that are required in every walk of life, be they commercial, industrial or domestic.

They perform two main functions, namely the handling of criminal and civil cases and giving legal advice. Advocates may conduct civil and criminal cases in various courts of law by appearing either for a defendant or a plaintiff in a civil case, or for the State or an accused in a criminal case.

Civil action results when the private interest of two parties or persons causes a dispute but where the State and its laws have not directly been violated or affected. Examples are claims for damages, disputes over contracts, insurance claims, divorce cases etc.. A criminal case is instigated by the State against someone who has allegedly violated or committed an offence against the law of the country.

Clients do not generally contact an advocate directly, but are referred by an attorney or lawyer. The advocate plays an important role by ensuring that all the evidence in favour of the client is placed before the magistrate or judge and by testing the version of the opposing party through cross-examination.

Advocates may specialise in different fields of the legal profession such as water rights, insurance claims, murder cases and libel actions. State advocates specialise in criminal law and in the same way as private practicing advocates, they appear in the Supreme Court, the Appeal Court and in lower courts, and also do a wide variety of chamber work.

Personal Requirements

  • integrity and honesty
  • ability to inspire confidence
  • quick thinking and analytical
  • well spoken and authoritative

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass 
Compulsory Subjects: None (unless you intend studying a commercial law degree, or patent law) 
Recommended Subjects: None, however, History, Economics, other languages may be useful 
In addition, check the university admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study


Degree: the only academic qualification that is presently recognised for the purpose of admission as an attorney is an LLB degree (the course duration of which is not less than four years) obtained at any university in South Africa.  

The attorney’s admission examination, which is presented by the Law Society, must be successfully completed before admission. A person must complete at least two years under a contract of articles (service at a private law firm or state attorney) or a service contract (community service at a legal aid institution).


Degree: The basic requirement is a 4 year LLB law degree from all major universities. Having achieved this, the next step is to apply to the High Court to be enrolled on the “roll” of advocates. To do this, a candidate must satisfy the court that he/she is both qualified and able to be a member of the profession. They will then be able to practise as an advocate in South Africa.

Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the “Bars” (the representative body of the advocates’ profession with the main purpose of maintaining professional standards among its members). Before admission to the Bar, you will have to do a learnership (called pupilage) of four months and pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar, which is a test of the applicant‘s practical ability.


  • private practice
  • businesses, companies and institutions, as managers and directors
  • legal advisers for government departments, businesses and companies
  • colleges and universities, as lecturers
  • politics

Further Information

Law Society of SA
304 Brooks Street
Menlo Park, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 366-8800

The Secretary
General Council of the Bar of SA
2nd Floor, Duma Nokwe West
Sandown Village
86 Maude Street
Sandown, 2146
Tel: (011) 784-0175

Getting Started

  •  try to arrange to speak to an advocate or an attorney to obtain first-hand information
  •  try to obtain vacation work in advocates’ or attorneys' offices 
  • attend open court sessions
  •  join a debating society and take part in discussions

Programmes by Study Institutions


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