Getting legal assistance
Attorneys are legal professionals who have the relevant knowledge and skills to provide legal advice. When consulting an attorney, the attorney will listen to the prospective client, explain his/her reasonable fee structure in simple and understandable terms and give an indication of how he/she expects the matter to proceed once the client has appointed the attorney.
Legal Aid South Africa
Legal Aid South Africa derives its mandate from s 35 of the Constitution. In terms of this section, every person who is arrested, detained or accused has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to have a legal practitioner assigned by the State and at State expense. Legal Aid South Africa’s role is to provide legal aid to those who cannot afford their own legal representation. This includes poor people and vulnerable groups such as women, children and the rural poor. Legal Aid SA applies a ‘means test’ to see whether you qualify in terms of what you earn. For example, employed individuals must earn less than R5 500 per month after tax has been taken off to qualify for legal aid.
Pro bono (free) legal services by attorneys
Attorneys in South Africa provide 24 hours per year of pro bono (free) legal assistance to indigent members of the public on a compulsory basis. Pro bono is administered by the four provincial law societies where attorneys are registered.
How do you qualify for a pro bono (free) attorney?
To qualify for free legal assistance, a person must comply with a ‘means test’ (a maximum monthly or no income) and have a legal problem with merit.
If a referral is made to a pro bono attorney, the client is responsible only for the cost of disbursements (actual expenses), such as Sheriffs’ fees, and the attorney will not charge any fees for the work and legal services provided.
Services rendered in terms of the Pro Bono Scheme include, but are not limited to the following:
Joint venture agreements have been entered into by the law societies with Legal Aid South Africa and ProBono.Org. These organisations can also arrange referrals on behalf of the Law Society.
Where do I find a pro bono attorney?
The First Interview Scheme by attorneys
The attorneys’ profession, thought the provincial law societies, provides a Free First Interview Scheme to make attorneys’ services more readily available to members of the public. This scheme has been introduced to assist those members of the public who would not normally make use of the services of an attorney, or who may hesitate to consult an attorney for fear of the possible high fees resulting from their services, or for those who do not qualify for pro bono assistance.
How does the First Interview Scheme work?
Any legal steps which may be taken, or any further consultations arising from the interview, are payable at the normal tariff, which must be agreed upon between the attorney and the client. The client will then become a paying client of the attorney.
The relevant provincial law society will refer you to an attorney who will see you for a first free half-hour interview. Attorneys who participate in this scheme are available on a roster basis. You will be referred to the next available attorney on the roster.
Services on a contingency fee basis by attorneys
Many attorneys are prepared to undertake civil litigation (such as personal injury and motor vehicle accident claims) on a contingency (no-win-no-fee) basis for persons who may not qualify for pro bono assistance. This is subject to the provisions of the Contingency Fees Act. Ask your attorney whether he/she works on a contingency basis.