An associate attorney is a lawyer employed by the partners, or joint owners and business directors, of a law firm. Associates hold the prospect of becoming partners. They are the legal professionals that most likely do the majority of the work on legal matters and communication. In general, they help lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials and corporate meetings. They also assist with fact-checking, making sure that research is relevant to a case and that all the information put together for a case is true. Many associate attorneys draft contracts, mortgages and separation agreements.
Associate attorneys may also represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, or manage (or advise clients on) legal transactions. An attorney may be a general practitioner or may specialise in one of a variety of areas, including criminal, real estate, matrimonial, probate and environmental law.
What does your job involve? A mixture of legal advising, representing clients, settling disputes, problem solving and legal research.
What training did you undergo? I completed a BSc in Biotechnology, Honours in Biochemistry, and then an LLB.
Why did you choose law? With the mix that I studied, there were so many professional options, such as medical malpractice law, intellectual property law, or being an in-house attorney for biological companies (such as winemakers or petrochemical companies). I ended up qualifying as a patent attorney and, strangely enough, years later started practicing medical malpractice law.
Is there a type of personality best suited to this work? There are such a variety of personalities in law! The most important thing is to know who you are and stick to it. Be determined, without being arrogant. Remember to remain teachable, no matter how long this has been your career.
Experience versus formal training? The two actually go hand in hand. Make the most of your tertiary education; be involved in student court, mock trials (moot courts), and legal aid clinic. Be a well-rounded student, you’ll find that you will then make the most of your work experience. You’ll also have more mental files in which to store useful information for later on!
Describe a typical day Running through the headlines, as the tea is brewing; checking and prioritising emails and phone calls (I have a maximum of ten emails in my inbox at any time); calling or consulting with clients; drafting opinions, letters and legal documents; discussions with colleagues; attending in-house training sessions on current law.
What do you love most about your job? The medical subject matter fascinates me. There is also a great sense of accomplishment when a panicked client receives a good outcome because of the work you have completed on a matter.
And dislikes? Having to track down clients who don’t pay! ;-(
Share a career highlight Some years back I began specialising in traditional medicinal knowledge and how the current law is adapting to protect it. My principal at the time was supposed to give a talk on the subject at an international conference, but was unable to at the last minute and asked me to step in. It was thrilling to be able to give a talk to such high-level listeners.
What are your future goals? To be the absolute best at whatever I do. And to encourage others to do the same.
Any advice for newcomers? MAKE SURE it’s what you want. Get advice, do vacation work at a law firm, talk to attorneys. Once you know, give it your all. Maintain good work/family boundaries. You’ll always need your friends and family.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
The first step to becoming an attorney is to complete a law degree. A BProc degree is specifically designed for those wishing to practice as attorneys. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a degree course is a prerequisite. This can be followed by an LLB degree, which is a postgraduate degree that further qualifies and allows for more career flexibility within the law field. These degrees can be studied at most universities in South Africa. It is then required that a graduate must do two years of articles service and write the Board Exam before being able to apply to the High Court to be admitted as an attorney.
WHERE CAN I STUDY?
University of KwaZulu-Natal
University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Commerce: Law
University of the Free State
University of Cape Town
University of Pretoria
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: