There is a certain sense of panic that starts to form when you are finishing your law degree and weighing out your options. Its natural to ask yourself, ‘what’s the next step?’ This is especially so nowadays, because there are many options available to graduates with a law degree. The two most common are for graduates to either apply to do their clerkship to become practicing attorneys or to become pupils to become advocates. The truth is, law graduates do not understand what either of these processes entail and the purpose of this blog, is to give law graduates an idea of what to expect.
If you want to become an admitted attorney, you must complete a period as a clerk. During this period, you are commonly known as a candidate attorney, and you will find yourself telling people that you are doing your ‘articles’. This is the common terminology in the industry so best get used to it. It is advisable to start researching and applying to firms at the beginning of your last year of your studies not only because of the competitive nature of the position, but also just on the sheer number of graduates that come out of the various law faculties across the country.
Once you have secured a position at a law firm, your ‘articles’ need to be registered with the LPC (Legal Practitioners Council of South Africa) and then you are mentored by an admitted attorney from the firm who is called your ‘principle’. It is very important that you impress your principle because there is not obligation on the firm to permanently hire you after you are admitted as an attorney. Your principle’s responsibility to is provide you with practical legal training and prepare you for the law school exams. During your clerkship, you do everything at the firm related to law. This ranges from paperwork to minor appearances to sitting in on consultations with clients. All this needs to be done while you attend law school classes in preparation for your law school exams. It can be a daunting time, but it builds character and resilience, two attributes you need if you want to practice law. After the period of your clerkship, you must sit for the law school exams and if you pass, you make an application to the LPC to be admitted as an attorney.
The process to become a pupil is very similar to that of a clerkship only the end goal is that you become and advocate and not an attorney. In this instance, your application goes to the Bar Association of South Africa, and you are assigned a mentor who assists you with your training. This training is heavily based in drafting legal paperwork and appearances in court. At the end of your pupilage, you sit for the Bar Exam and then you apply to the Bar Association to become an advocate. Both processes are often harrowing, and you need to prepare yourself for hard work. The reward, however, is worth it.
Most law students understand the differences between an attorney and an advocate but if one were to narrowly define the differences, an attorney is hired by a member of the public to represent a legal matter and forms an attorney client relationship, while an advocate is hired by an attorney to assist with the matter if required and the attorney and advocate have their own relationship, entirely excluded from the client. This is something to consider when deciding what route, you want to go, would you rather deal with a client or an attorney in your career.
Some law school graduates decide that they do not want to deal with either a client or an attorney and then that sense of panic sets in again, but fret not, there are many things that you can do with a law degree. You might feel very strongly that you want to become a Prosecutor, and, in that instance, you would simply apply to the National Prosecuting Authority and sit their exam. You can take up an internship in a corporate environment and use your law degree to enter the corporate environment. If you are fascinated with the nitty gritty details of case law and find yourself often dissecting them with friends, then you can consider a career as a legal journalist. If your love is academia and teaching others, you can pursue your master’s and thereafter your Doctorate in Law and become a law lecturer. Your main take from this blog is that you have options so there is no need to panic. Consider your own personality, the fact that everyone will tell you that law is a calling and weigh out your options now that you have more information.