What qualifications are needed to become a Lawyer in South Africa
The admission requirements for attorneys in South Africa are prescribed by the Attorneys Act 53 of 1979 and the rules promulgated in terms of the Act. The most relevant requirements are the following:
A person must be regarded as a fit and proper person by the Law Society and the High Court before he can be admitted as an attorney. This requirement refers mainly to the moral integrity of a person, his characteristics and particularly honesty, which is considered to be an important prerequisite for practising as an attorney.
A person must be older than 21 years and a South African citizen; or be legally entitled to permanent residence in the Republic and be ordinarily resident in the Republic; or be a citizen of a state which formerly formed part of the Republic and belongs to a category of persons and has complied with certain conditions, as determined by the Minister from time to time (currently being the former ‘TBVC’ states, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe).
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) or BProc-degree (obtained on or before 31 December 2004), obtained at any university in the Republic.
There are exceptions to this rule.
The first exception is if the applicant has obtained a degree/s other than an LLB at university in South Africa, for a study period of not less than five years and has satisfied the requirements of an LLB.
The second exception is if the applicant has completed a degree of the same status as the South African LLB degree at a university in a country designated by the Minister (currently being the former ‘TBVC’ states, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe), which degree has been certified by a university in South Africa and the person has completed a supplementary examination (if required).
The third exception is if the applicant has completed a degree, which does not meet the requirements of an LLB degree, at any university in South Africa, or,
fourthly, if the applicant has completed a degree of the same status as the corresponding South African degree at a university in a country designated by the Minister (currently being the former ‘TBVC’ states, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe), which degree has been certified by a university in South Africa.
The fifth exception is if the applicant has obtained a matric certificate with full university exemption. Please note that the abovementioned exceptions numbered three to five increase the term of the duration of service of articles of clerkship (see 3.2.4 below).
Attorneys’ Admission Examination
The attorneys’ admission examination, which is presented by the Law Society, must be successfully completed before admission. This examination is practice-orientated and can only be written:
- once the aspirant attorney has completed a period of six months service under articles of clerkship or a service contract (community service at a law clinic)
- once he/she has attended the full-time School for Legal Practice for a period of approximately six months.
A person has more than one opportunity during the period of articles or community service to write the admission examination, which is scheduled twice per year. A person may also attempt the exam within three years after the contract has expired.
The examination comprises the following sections:
– Paper 1: Practice and procedure (criminal procedure, supreme court procedure, magistrates’ court procedure and motor vehicle accident claims);
– Paper 2: Wills and Estates;
– Paper 3: Attorneys’ practice, contracts and rules of conduct; and
– Paper 4: Legal bookkeeping.
Service under Articles of Clerkship or Service Contract
There are various methods to obtain the practical qualification to be admitted as an attorney in South Africa. An applicant 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), unless he has attended the full-time School for Legal Practice for a period of approximately six months. In the case of such attendance the period of articles or community service will be one year only.
- Three 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), if the applicant:- has completed a degree, which does not meet the requirements of an LLB degree, at any university in South Africa, or
– if the applicant has completed a degree of the same status as the corresponding South African degree at a university in a country designated by the Minister (currently being the former ‘TBVC’ states, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe), which degree has been certified by a university in South Africa, or
– has obtained a matric certificate and has served continuously for a period of at least two years as a clerk to any judge of the High Court, provided that the applicant enters into articles of clerkship within a period of one year after completing such
- Five years if the applicant does not have a degree, but at least has a matric certificate with full university exemption.
Service under any of the above contracts must be completed on a full-time basis.
‘Appropriate legal experience’
Provision has also been made that a person can apply for exemption from service under a contract if he has completed a five-year period in an area of ‘appropriate experience’.
Compulsory practical legal training
A person must attend a practical legal training course, which is recognised by a law society in South Africa. This can be either a short course of approximately five weeks during or after the period of articles or community service, or attendance of a full-time course at a School for Legal Practice of approximately six months. The Law Society of South Africa’s Legal Education and Development department (LEAD) has the following branches of the School for Legal Practice:
- Cape Town;
- East London;
- Port Elizabeth;
- Potchefstroom; and
There is also a correspondence School run in conjunction with Unisa. It is administered from the Pretoria offices of LEAD.
Although statutory language requirements for qualification have been abolished, it is important to note that individual universities may:
i) still have language requirements as part of their degree curricula or offer courses in such a language on an elective basis; and/or
ii) require a minimum symbol at matric level, in certain languages.
The ability to communicate effectively is essential for all lawyers. Prospective lawyers should therefore make us of every opportunity to enhance their oral and written communication skills.
Screening of prospective candidate attorneys
A senior member of the Law Society will conduct a personal interview with a prospective candidate attorney before registration of a service contract or contract of articles by the Law Society, in order to determine whether a person can be regarded as a fit and proper person for entering the profession. Specific attention will be given to previous convictions.
- Professional Assistant with a firm of attorneys;
- Junior Partner in a firm of attorneys;
- Senior Partner in a firm of attorneys; or
- Starting one’s own firm once admitted as an attorney.
Attorneys can also be appointed as judges to the High Court and the Constitutional Court.
Mandatory practice management
In terms of Sections 8 to 10 of the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Act 55 of 2003, a course in Practice Management has become mandatory for all attorneys who are to be issued with their first Fidelity Fund Certificates, subsequent to 14 August 2009.
Registration for the course is not a prerequisite for the issuing of the attorney’s first Fidelity Fund Certificate; however successful completion of the course before 31 December of the year which follows upon the year in which the first Fidelity Fund Certificate had been issued to him or her, is required in terms of Section 42 of the Attorneys Act 53 of 1979, to enable the relevant statutory law society to issue him or her with future Fidelity Fund Certificates.
Information on compliance, exemption and Attorney Fidelity Fund certificates can be obtained from the relevant statutory provincial law society.
Practice Management training courses
The Law Society of South Africa’s Legal Education and Development division (LEAD) provides training in practice management to comply with the above requirement. Click here for more information.