Advocates have specialised expertise in various areas of the law, especially in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court. They get briefed to take on cases by attorneys when a specialist skill is needed in a court case or in research into the law. Attorneys are the lawyers that clients see first with their problems, giving general advice in the law, and then engaging the advocate on the clients’ behalf.
An advocate prepares cases by:
- reading many factual documents
- researching the law
- listening to clients’ stories and witnesses’ evidence
- clearly defining the issues that need decision
- drafting pleadings and arguments
- negotiating settlements or conduct of cases with colleagues
- guiding and testing witness evidence by asking questions and cross-questioning them.
Advocates are organised into societies known as ‘Bars’, which are the bodies representing the advocates’ profession, and are required to practice together in sets of chambers.
STATE YOUR CASE
Why did you choose to be an advocate? At school I had a girlfriend whose father had spent many years practising as an advocate before becoming a judge. I was fascinated by the stories he told about the work of an advocate and immediately knew that I wanted to be one.
What training did you do? I studied for six years doing two degrees at UCT (BA and LLB) and then two years articles to become an attorney, which I was for a short time before doing the training required by the advocates’ profession (called pupillage) for six months. Although I chose to do so, it is not necessary to be an attorney beforehand.
What is the difference between an attorney and an advocate? Attorneys are the lawyers that clients see first with their problems and they give general advice in the law. Advocates get briefed to take on cases by attorneys when a specialist skill is needed in court or in research into the law. Attorneys work at law firms while advocates are completely independent and do not work for a firm at all, though for convenience they share offices (called chambers) with other advocates.
Is there a type of personality best suited to the job? I think so. Because advocates appear in court, the ultimate responsibility for the case rests with them. Whether or not the client is successful often depends on how well you have presented a case and not everyone is comfortable with that responsibility. In my experience advocates who lack confidence tend to be less effective than those who are confident (but not arrogant).
What do you enjoy the most about your work? For me there are few better experiences than arguing a case well before a judge and persuading him or her that your client has the better case on the facts and the law. With the stress that comes with the responsibility of the case also comes the satisfaction when it goes well (and misery when it goes badly!)
What aspects are you least keen on? The night before a big case is not great…
How does work experience compare with formal training? In my opinion, experience is far more important than training and I am sometimes amazed at how much better one becomes at being an advocate the longer one practices it.
What advice would you give someone starting out in your field? Always do what you know is right, even if it is the harder thing to do.
The basic requirement for becoming an advocate is an LLB degree, following the completion of a Bachelor of Law degree. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a degree course is a prerequisite. The next step is to apply to the High Court to be included on the ‘roll’ of advocates, which enables one to practise as an advocate in South Africa. Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the Bars. In order to be accepted, graduates are required to serve an apprenticeship (called a pupillage) of one year. It is also necessary to pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar, which is a test of practical ability.
WHERE CAN I STUDY?
University of Cape Town
University of Johannesburg
University of Pretoria
University of Stellenbosch
WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: