To become an attorney, one must first complete a Batchelor of Laws (LLB) degree at a recognised university in South Africa.

Thereafter one must secure articles of clerkship, a form of an internship, at a practising law firm as a candidate attorney or clerk. Articles are for a period of two years. Alternatively, one could complete practical legal training, with the Law Society of South Africa and thereafter do articles for only one year.

Towards the end of articles, one must complete special classes which are geared to providing clerks with a greater practical background in all fields of the law. Once the classes are completed, one must write four board exams. With all exams passed one will be permitted to request formal admittance as an attorney.

An attorney can specialise in a number of different fields of the law but to become a conveyancer or notary, an attorney must complete and pass additional courses and exams.

Attorneys consult with the public directly and take on clients who provide the attorneys with instructions in their (the public’s) matters. Attorneys will advise clients whether or not their case has any prospects of success based on the merits thereof. Attorneys pay specific attention to finer details of the matter and will argue the client’s case in a court of law.

Attorneys are obliged to have trust accounts which are audited yearly in order to receive a Fidelity Fund Certificate confirming that they are eligible to practise law. Attorneys are responsible for the collection of their fees from clients once clients are invoiced.  

To become an advocate, one must also first complete a LLB and thereafter enrol for Pupillage with the Society of Advocates at the relevant Bar. 

Pupillage is formal full-time training for a period of no less than one year. During pupillage one is taught how to argue matters in lower and higher courts with specific reference as to how to structure arguments in court. Attorneys also learn this skill but with advocates it is more intense and practical training. Attorneys may become advocates and previous training will permit the attorneys to forgo certain parts of pupillage. During pupillage, trainee advocates assist admitted advocates with briefs from attorneys. Trainee advocates are generally not remunerated during pupillage.

Pupillage completed, trainee advocates must pass the National Bar Examination and may then apply to be admitted as a practising advocate.

Once admitted, advocates practise for their own accounts and may take briefs from various instructing attorneys. Until very recently advocates were not permitted to take briefs directly from the public. Advocates who wish to take briefs directly from the public must have a trust account and be audited yearly. Advocates who work through attorneys hold the attorneys liable for the payment of their fees regardless of whether or not the client pays the invoices.