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Becoming a legal practitioner

Becoming a legal practitioner (attorney or advocate)

The admission requirements for legal practitioners (attorneys or advocates) in South Africa are currently prescribed by the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 and the Rules promulgated in terms of the Act.. These are an academic qualification, service under articles of clerkship or service contract, or pupillage, compulsory practical legal training and personal fitness. All these have to be complied with before a candidate can be admitted as an attorney or advocate. Further, all persons wishing to enter the profession must pass a competency-based examination determined by the Legal Practice Council..

Extracts from the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014:

[Council refers to the Legal Practice Council]

Admission and enrolment -

(1) A person may only practise as a legal practitioner if he or she is admitted and enrolled to practise as such in terms of this Act.

(2) The High Court must admit to practise and authorise to be enrolled as a legal practitioner, conveyancer or notary or any person who, upon application, satisfies the court that he or she -'

(a) is duly qualified as set out in section 26;

(b) is a—

(i) South African citizen; or

(ii) permanent resident in the Republic;

(c) is a fit and proper person to be so admitted; and

(d) has served a copy of the application on the Council, containing the information as determined in the rules within the time period determined in the rules.

26. Minimum qualifications and practical vocational training -

(1) A person qualifies to be admitted and enrolled as a legal practitioner, if that person has -

(a) satisfied all the requirements for the LLB degree obtained at any university registered in the Republic, after pursuing for that degree -

(i) a course of study of not less than four years; or

(ii) a course of study of not less than five years if the LLB degree is preceded by a bachelor’s degree other than the LLB degree, as determined in the rules of the university in question and approved by the Council; or

(b) subject to section 24 (2) (b), satisfied all the requirements for a law degree obtained in a foreign country, which is equivalent to the LLB degree and recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority established by the National Qualifications Framework Act, 2008 (Act No. 67 of 2008); and

(c) undergone all the practical vocational training requirements as a candidate legal practitioner prescribed by the Minister, including -

(i) community service as contemplated in section 29, and

(ii) a legal practice management course for candidate legal practitioners who intend to practise as attorneys or as advocates referred to in section 34 (2) (b); and

(d) passed a competency based examination or assessment for candidate legal practitioners as may be determined in the rules.

(2) An attorney qualifies to be enrolled as a conveyancer, if he or she has passed a competency based examination or assessment of conveyancers as determined in the rules by the Council.

(3) An attorney qualifies to be enrolled as a notary, if he or she has passed a competency based examination or assessment for notaries as determined in the rules by the Council.

27. Practical vocational training -

The practical vocational training requirements were published in the Regulations in terms of Section 109(1)(a) of the Legal Practice Act and gazetted on 31 August 2018. Download the Regulations here.

Practical vocational training requirements that candidate attorneys must comply with before they can be admitted by the court as legal practitioners
6. (1) Any person intending to be admitted and enrolled as an attorney must, after that person has satisfied all the requirements for a degree referred to in sections 26(1)(a) or (b) of the Act serve under a practical vocational training contract with a person referred to in subregulation (5) -

(a) for an uninterrupted period of 24 months, and -

(i) during the service under a practical vocational training contract; or(ii) within a period of no longer than 12 months after the termination of the practical vocational training contract, must complete a programme of structured course work of not less than 150 notional hours: Provided that if a candidate attorney fails to complete the programme of structured course work within a period of 36 months after the date of registration of a practical vocational training contract, he or she will be required to repeat the course work programme; or

(b) for an uninterrupted period of 12 months if, prior to the registration of a practical vocational training contract, he or she has completed a programme of structured course work, comprising compulsory modules, of not less than 400 notional
hours duration in the aggregate over a period of no longer than six months.

(2) A person referred to in subregulation (1)(a) who has entered into a practical vocational training contract for a period of 24 months may, after having served a period of 12 months under that contract, apply for admission and enrolment as an
attorney if he or she has, during the course of that period of 12 months but outside of
his or her normal working hours in terms of that contract, completed a programme of structured course work, comprising compulsory modules, of not less than 400 notional hours duration in the aggregate.
(3) Attendance at any training course presented at a Practical Legal Training School of the Law Society of South Africa for purposes of the Attorneys Act, for which the candidate attorney registered before the date referred to in section 120(4) of the Act and in respect of which the required attendance was completed within a period of 12 months after that date is regarded for purposes of these regulations as compliance with the requirements of course work referred to in subregulation (1)(a) and (b).
(4) Subject to the provisions of the Act, any period of service before a candidate attorney has satisfied the requirements of the degrees referred to in 26(1)(a) or (b) of the Act is not regarded as good or sufficient service in terms of a practical vocational training contract.
(5) A candidate attorney may be engaged or retained under a practical vocational training contract by an attorney -

(a) practising for his or her own account;
(b) practising as a partner in a firm of attorneys;
(c) practising as a member of a juristic entity;
(d) practising as state attorney;
(e) who has practised as a professional assistant in a firm of attorneys for a period of five years within the preceding six years; or
(f) in the full time employ of, or who is a member of -

(i) Legal Aid South Africa, established in terms of the Legal Aid South Africa Act, 2014 (Act No. 39 of 2014); or
(ii) a legal aid institution which has been approved by the Council for the purpose of engaging candidate attorneys and who is responsible for supervising the training of candidate attorneys so engaged; or
(iii) any other institution approved by the Council for the purpose of engaging candidate attorneys and who is responsible for supervising the training of candidate attorneys so engaged.

(6) An attorney engaging a candidate attorney –

(a) as contemplated in subregulation (5)(a) to (d) must have practised as an attorney for a period of not less than three years, or for periods of not less than three years in the aggregate, during the preceding four years; and
(b) as contemplated in subregulation (f) must have practised as an attorney for a period of not less than three years, or for periods of not less than three years in the aggregate during the preceding four years prior to being engaged by Legal Aid South Africa or the institution concerned.

(7) Service by a candidate attorney to any attorney while that attorney is not practising or has not practised as provided for in subregulation (5) is not deemed to be service under a practical vocational training contract for purposes of these regulations.
(8) An attorney referred to in subregulation (5)(a) to (e) may, at no time, have more than three candidate attorneys and an attorney referred to in subregulation (5)(f) may, at no time, have more than six candidate attorneys in the aggregate engaged or retained in terms of a practical vocational training contract.
(9) When an attorney dies or retires from practice or has been struck off the Roll, any of his or her surviving or remaining partners, any member of the commercial juristic entity of which he or she was a member, or any other attorney employed full time at Legal Aid South Africa or the institution concerned may take cession of the practical vocational training contract of the candidate attorney, despite the fact that the cessionary may then have more than three or six, as the case may be, candidate attorneys, under contract.
(10) The programme of structured course work referred to in subregulation (1)(a) and (b) must be standardized and uniform throughout the Republic and comprise the following modules:

(a) constitutional practice;
(b) professional legal ethics;
(c) personal injury claims;
(d) high court practice;
(e) magistrate’s court practice;
(f) criminal court practice;
(g) labour dispute resolution;
(h) alternative dispute resolution
(i) attorneys’ bookkeeping;
(j) wills and estates;
(k) matrimonial law;
(l) legal costs;
(m) drafting of contracts;
(n) information and communication technology for practice, and associated aspects of cyber law; and
(o) introduction to practice management.

(11) The training provided in terms of this regulation must be standardized by the Council in terms of norms and standards.

Practical vocational training requirements that pupils must comply with before they can be admitted by the court as legal practitioners

7. (1) A person intending to be admitted and enrolled as an advocate
Must -

(a) serve under a practical vocational training contract with a person referred to in subregulation (4) for an uninterrupted period of 12 months after that person has satisfied all the requirements for a degree referred to in sections 26(1)(a) or (b) of
the Act; and
(b) prior to or during service under a practical vocational training contract complete a programme of structured course work, comprising compulsory modules, of not less than 400 notional hours duration in the aggregate over a period of no longer than six months.

(2) Attendance at any training course approved by any existing society of advocates, the National Bar Council of South Africa or the General Council of the Bar for which the pupil registered before the date referred to in section 120(4) of the Act and in respect of which the required attendance was completed within a period of 12 months after that date is regarded for purposes of these regulations as compliance with the requirements of sub-regulation (1)(b).
(3) Subject to the provisions of the Act, any period of service before the pupil has satisfied the requirements of the degrees referred to in subregulation (1) is not regarded as good or sufficient service in terms of a practical vocational training contract.
(4) A pupil may be engaged or retained under a practical vocational training contract by an advocate -

(a) who is enrolled and practising as such; or
(b) in the full time employ of, or who is a member of -

(i) Legal Aid South Africa, established in terms of the Legal Aid South Africa Act, 2014 (Act No. 39 of 2014);
(ii) a legal aid institution which has been approved by the Council for the purpose of engaging pupils and who is responsible for supervising the training of pupils so engaged; or
(iii) any other institution approved by the Council for the purpose of engaging pupils and who is responsible for supervising the training of pupils so engaged.

(5) An advocate engaging a pupil -

(a) as contemplated in subregulation (4)(a) must have practised as an advocate for a period of not less than three years, or for periods of not less than three years in the aggregate during the preceding four years; and
(b) as contemplated in subregulation (4)(b) must have practised as an advocate for a period of not less than three years, or for periods of not less than three years in the aggregate during the preceding four years prior to being engaged by Legal Aid South Africa or the institution concerned.

(6) Service by a pupil to an advocate while that advocate is not practising or has not practised as provided for in subregulation (5) is not deemed to be service under a practical vocational training contract for purposes of these regulations.
(7) An advocate referred to in subregulation (4)(a) may, at no time, have more than one pupil and an advocate referred to in subregulation (4)(b) may, at no time, have more than six pupils in the aggregate engaged or retained in terms of a practical vocational training contract.
(8) When an advocate dies or retires from practice or has been struck off the Roll any advocate who complies with the requirements of these regulations may take cession of the practical vocational training contract of the pupil, despite the fact that the cessionary may then have more than one or six, as the case may be, pupils, under contract.
(9) The compulsory course work referred to in subregulation (1) must be standardized and uniform and comprise the following modules:

(a) for pupils intending the be admitted as advocates referred to in section 34(2)(b) of the Act, bookkeeping as contemplated in regulation 6(10)(i);;
(b) advocacy skills, including trial and motion court proceedings and attendance of court proceedings;
(c) alternative dispute resolution;
(d) civil procedure;
(e) criminal procedure;
(f) professional conduct and legal ethics of advocates;
(g) legal writing and drafting;
(h) constitutional law and customary law; and
(i) information and communication technology for practice, and associated aspects of cyber law.

(10) The training provided in terms of this regulation must be standardized by the Council in terms of norms and standards.

29. Community service -

The Minister must, after consultation with the Council, prescribe the requirements for community service from a date to be determined by the Minister. This has yet to be prescribed.

Please note:

33. Authority to render legal services –

(1) Subject to any other law, no person other than a practising legal practitioner who has been admitted and enrolled as such in terms of this Act may, in expectation of any fee, commission, gain or reward -

(a) appear in any court of law or before any board, tribunal or similar institution in which only legal practitioners are entitled to appear; or

(b) draw up or execute any instruments or documents relating to or required or intended for use in any action, suit or other proceedings in a court of civil or criminal jurisdiction within the Republic.

(2) No person other than a legal practitioner may hold himself or herself out as a legal practitioner or make any representation or use any type or description indicating or implying that he or she is a legal practitioner.

(3) No person may, in expectation of any fee, commission, gain or reward, directly or indirectly, perform any act or render any service which in terms of any other law may only be done by an advocate, attorney, conveyancer or notary, unless that person is a practising advocate, attorney, conveyancer or notary, as the case may be.

(4) A legal practitioner who is struck off the Roll or suspended from practice may not -

(a) render services as a legal practitioner directly or indirectly for his or her own account, or in partnership, or association with any other person, or as a member of a legal practice; or

(b) be employed by, or otherwise be engaged, in a legal practice without the prior written consent of the Council, which consent may not be unreasonably withheld, and such consent may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Council may determine.

34. Forms of legal practice -

(1) An attorney may render legal services in expectation of any fee, commission, gain, or reward as contemplated in this Act or any other applicable law, upon receipt of a request directly from the public for that service.

(2) (a) An advocate may render legal services in expectation of a fee, commission, gain or reward as contemplated in this Act or any other applicable law -

(i) upon receipt of a brief from an attorney; or

(ii) upon receipt of a request directly from a member of the public or from a justice centre for that service, subject to paragraph (b).

(b) An advocate contemplated in paragraph (a) (ii) may only render those legal services rendered by advocates before the commencement of this Act as determined by the Council in the rules, if he or she -

(i) is in possession of a Fidelity Fund certificate and conducts his or her practice in accordance with the relevant provisions of Chapter 7, with particular reference to sections 84, 85, 86 and 87;

(ii) has notified the Council thereof in terms of section 30 (1) (b) (ii).

(c) An advocate may render legal services in criminal or civil matters in expectation of a fee, commission, gain or reward as contemplated in this Act or any other applicable law upon receipt of a request directly from a justice centre for that service, in which event the provisions of paragraph (b) do not apply.

(5) Attorneys may only practise -

(a) for their own account;

(b) as part of a commercial juristic entity referred to in subsection (7) and as such, may only make over to, share or divide any portion of their professional fee whether by way of partnership, commission, allowance, or otherwise with an attorney;

(c) as part of a law clinic established in terms of subsection (8);

(d) as part of Legal Aid South Africa; or

(e) as an attorney in the fulltime employment of the State as a state attorney or the South African Human Rights Commission.

(6) Advocates may only practise -

(a) for their own account and as such may not make over to, share or divide any portion of their professional fee whether by way of partnership, commission, allowance or otherwise;

(b) as part of a law clinic established in terms of subsection (8);

(c) as part of Legal Aid South Africa; or

(d) as an advocate in the fulltime employment of the State as a state advocate or the South African Human Rights Commission.

(7) A commercial juristic entity may be established to conduct a legal practice provided that, in terms of its founding documents -

(a) its shareholding, partnership or membership as the case may be, is comprised exclusively of attorneys;

(b) provision is made for legal services to be rendered only by or under the supervision of admitted and enrolled attorneys; and

(c) all present and past shareholders, partners or members, as the case may be, are liable jointly and severally together with the commercial juristic entity for—

(i) the debts and liabilities of the commercial juristic entity as are or were contracted during their period of office; and

(ii) in respect of any theft committed during their period of office.

(8) (a) Subject to the approval of the Council in terms of the rules, a law clinic may be established by -

(i) a non-profit juristic entity registered in terms of the Nonprofit Organisations Act, 1997 (Act No. 71 of 1997), to conduct a legal practice if, in terms of its founding documents -

(aa) the majority of its members of its governing body is comprised of legal practitioners; and

(bb) upon its winding up, dissolution or voluntary deregistration, any asset remaining after all liabilities have been met, are transferred to another non-profit organisation having similar objectives to it; or

(ii) any university in the Republic if it is constituted and governed as part of the faculty of law at that university, and is subject to the provisions of paragraphs (b) and (c).

(b) A law clinic referred to in paragraph (a) -

(i) may only render legal services if those services are rendered by or under the supervision of attorneys;

(ii) may not make over to, share or divide any portion of its professional fee whether by way of partnership, commission, allowance or otherwise;

(iii) may not distribute any of its income or property to its members, governors or employees, except as reasonable compensation for services rendered;

(iv) may only engage candidate legal practitioners if it complies with the requirements determined by the Council in the rules; and

(v) may not render those legal services determined by the Council in the rules.

(c) Legal services rendered by a law clinic referred to in paragraph (a)—

(i) must be accessible to the public; and

(ii) must, subject to section 92, be rendered to the recipient of those services free of charge, except that the law clinic may recover any amounts actually disbursed on behalf of the recipient of the services.

Practice management training

The Law Society of South Africa’s Legal Education and Development division (LEAD) provides training in practice management to comply with the requirement.