The legal profession is divided into two branches: attorneys (sometimes referred to as lawyers) and advocates. Think of them in terms of a doctor and a specialist ... The attorney, like the doctor, is the person with whom you first make contact when you have a legal problem. Therefore, an attorney needs to be readily accessible to everyone, and the service he or she supplies needs to be broad enough to cover a wide field of legal problems. This means that in general, attorneys are not always able to provide specialist service in every field of law in which they may be asked to act. Advocates, like medical specialists, have specialized expertise in various areas of the law, especially in the presentation of cases in court. To obtain the services of an advocate, the client approaches the attorney who then engages the advocate on his behalf, to represent him in court or advise him as necessary.
Advocates are organized into societies in the major centres in South Africa. These are known historically as "Bars", which are in essence fraternities of men and women who practice as advocates in the centres where the Bars are situated. As the body representing the advocates' profession, the purpose of the Bar is to maintain professional standards and conduct among practicing advocates, and sometimes to enforce discipline amongst its members. It also provides training for aspiring advocates at the beginning of their careers. Members are always ready to assist one another and it is not unusual for the most junior member of the Bar to approach a senior member with any problem of practice that he might encounter. The Bar enforces a strict code of ethical conduct and professional integrity to which advocates are required to adhere.
Advocates are primarily experts in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court. Until 1994, only advocates were allowed to present cases in the court which were then known as the Supreme Courts and the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein. Attorneys may now also appear in the newly named High Courts and the Supreme Court of Appeal as well as the Constitutional Court. The vast majority of cases in these courts are, however, still presented by advocates. This requires a mastery of law and the facts of the case, good judgment and the ability to present a case clearly and coherently. It means an advocate must conscientiously prepare every case, by reading, seeking advice and clearly defining the issues which need decision. Advocates also give legal opinions and help with the drafting of legal documents that are required in every walk of life, be it commercial, industrial or domestic. An important part of the advocate's work is providing legal assistance to needy clients by way of PRO DEO, PRO BONO and AMICUS CURIAE appearances in court. What these mean is working for the good of society at reduced rates and in some cases without remuneration.
Legal representation in the courts is a fundamental right of all South Africans. It is vital that such representation should come from as broad a cross section of our South African society as possible. This service is essential is every citizen, rich or poor, weak or powerful, is to be protected from the tragedy of incorrect prosecution or unjust treatment. It is also essential in the establishment of a just and fair society. It is the advocate's duty to use his expertise to ensure that people's freedom is in no way compromised, nor their rights denied. An important tradition which exists at the Bar is the obligation on advocates to take all work offered to them, provided that they are available to do it and that the work falls within their area of expertise. In this way, everyone has access to the best available services, irrespective of the merits of the case.
Advocacy is a career that gains great respect from the community. Through its service to fellow citizens, it offers a sense of personal satisfaction not easily found in other career choices. In addition, the financial benefits are comparable to those enjoys by most other professions. When advocates have reached a particular level of experience in practice, they are entitled to apply to the President for appointment as "senior counsel". These senior advocates are usually referred to as "silks" due to the different type of court gown that they are entitled to wear. Judges of the High Court are often appointed form the ranks of senior counsel. One of the most important functions of the Bar is, therefore, to serve as a training ground for a career on the High Court Bench. Can you see yourself as a judge one day? Why not?
The basic requirement is an LLB degree of any South African University, following the completion of a BA, BComm or similar Bachelor's degree. Having achieved this, the next step is to apply to the High Court to be included on the "roll" of advocates. To do this, you must satisfy the court that you are both qualified and able to become a member of the profession. You will then be able to practise as an advocate in South Africa. Once admitted, it is customary to join one of the Bars to benefit from the strong collective spirit and experience of the fraternity. Before admission to the Bar, you will have to serve an apprenticeship (called a pupilage) of one year. You will also have to pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar, which is a test of you practical ability.
Do not be put off by the potential cost of such an education. There are already many scholarships, grants and bursary schemes available, specifically aimed at students like you. There are also schemes at various Bars to provide financial assistance to advocates during their pupilage.
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