What does an attorney do?
An attorney or lawyer is legal professional that provides clients with legal advice and representation. An attorney’s role may can include representing clients in legal proceedings such as court proceedings or arbitration, drafting legal documents and agreements, doing research on legal matters and providing opinions and instructing advocates in court cases.
Attorneys can work as general practitioners or in a wide variety of specialised legal fields such as criminal or civil litigation, commercial law, family law, matrimonial law, property law, wills and estates, or intellectual property law.
Nicole Neethling | ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY | Webber Wentzel Attorneys
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.
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. An LLB degree is required, which is either a four year undergraduate degree or a two year postgraduate degree. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a degree course is a prerequisite. Often an LLB is combined with an undergraduate BA Law or BCom Law degree, which 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 articled service and write the Board Exam before being able to apply to the High Court to be admitted as an attorney.