How to become an attorney in South Africa

Thursday, February 10, 2022, 11:00
Author name
Marko van der Merwe
A picture of an attorney in front of steps buttoning his suit jacket

In this article we explain to aspiring legal professionals how to become an attorney in South Africa. We try to explain all the steps in detail so that you can become an attorney in the shortest amount of time possible. 

Understanding your career path and what it takes to become a top attorney is of vital importance to get a top salary. This will also guide you through your career. If you are currently somewhere on this path, bookmark this article as a guide and refer to it when you are ready for the next step. 

The steps of becoming an attorney are as follows: 

1. Passing matric with the right marks

To be able to pass to the next step in becoming an attorney, you have to pass matric with the right subjects. To be admitted to UP’s Undergraduate LLB programme, you need an APS of at least 32. You will also have to pass English home language or first additional language with 60-69%.

However, to get admitted to the UNISA LLB programme you only need an APS of 20 or higher. Additionally you need to have achieved at least a 50% mark in the language you will study in. 

Your matric can be completed at any high school in the world that qualifies for a national senior certificate or similar. 

2. Studying LLB

Doing your LLB degree at any South African university that allows you to study LLB can be done right after passing matric and meeting the admission requirements of the university. 

LLB at UP takes at least 4 years to complete. However, it may take you longer if you struggle to pass all of your subjects. We recommend that you study hard and try your best to pass within 4 years. This will help you to continue to the next phase of becoming an attorney in South Africa.

Unisa also takes at least 4 years to complete. However, you may take up to 10 years to complete your degree. As most students at Unisa study part time it usually takes more than 4 years to complete. 

3. Doing vacation work at a registered law firm

Most law firms offer vacation work to aspiring attorneys in South Africa. However, most law firms only offer vacation work to 3rd and 4th year students. 

Doing vacation work in the July and December holidays will separate you from your peers. It will give you real-world experience in doing law work. This will look good on your resume which will help you get a job after graduation.

4. Doing your law articles

Doing your law articles takes 2 years of working as a candidate attorney. This has to be done at a registered law firm in South Africa. During this time you will work under the supervision of a registered attorney. 

You need to have completed your LLB degree to start working as a candidate attorney and do your Articles of Clerkship. However, we recommend that you apply at these firms while you are studying in order to waste no time. 

5. Preparing for the Board exams

Completing the board exams is the next step in being admitted as an attorney. You may start to prepare for these exams while you are still a candidate attorney. 

The board exams consist of 4 papers that you need to complete, this includes: 

  • Paper 1 - Court Procedures
  • Paper 2 - Administration of estates
  • Paper 3 - Attorney's Practice (Also known as the ethics paper)
  • Paper 4 - Accounting

The best course to prepare for the board exams is this Attorneys’ admission exam course. It will help you to prepare for each of the exams in full with recordings and study notes from the Gawie le Roux institute of law

6. Attorneys’ admission exam

The 2022 exam dates are as follows: 

  • Paper 1 & 2: 15 March 2022 or 16 August 2022
  • Paper 3 & 4: 16 March 2022 or 17 August 2022

Passing these examinations is of utmost importance. Therefore, you need to prepare well by studying hard and doing the course on the Gawie le Roux website. 

You will need to register to write the exams at the Legal Practice Council. Past exam papers are also available online at no charge. 

7. Attorney admission

Attorney admission is the final step of becoming an attorney in South Africa. First complete your articles with a registered law firm and pass your board exams. Then you may apply to court to be admitted as an attorney. 

This is how you can get your application in order.

You have to actually launch an ex parte high court application. A notice of motion together with a founding affidavit must be drafted by the candidate legal practitioner and the pleadings will then be issued by the court. Additionally, an advocate can be briefed to move forward with the admission. 

You also need to be at least 21 years of age and a South African citizen or hold permanent residency. 

8. Celebration

The process of becoming an attorney in South Africa takes at least 6 years. 4 Years of studying and 2 years of articles and writing the admission exams. That is a long time of working hard with late nights and early mornings. 

Once you are admitted as an attorney by the high court it is definitely time to celebrate with family, friends and colleagues. 

9. Working as an attorney

Now that you have passed all the requirements and you are admitted as an attorney in South Africa, you can practice law. 

Here is a list of different types of lawyers:

  • Divorce Lawyer
  • Family Lawyer
  • Immigration Lawyer
  • Criminal Lawyer
  • Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer
  • Business and Corporate Lawyer
  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Employment Lawyer
  • Animal Lawyer

Working as an attorney in South Africa can be very rewarding according to Businesstech. As a junior attorney (just after qualifying as an attorney) you can expect to earn around R400 000 - R550 000 per year. However, if you continue at it and eventually become a Senior Partner, you can expect to earn R2 000 000 - R3 500 000 per year.

Other tips in becoming an attorney

CV and cover letter

Setting up a good quality CV with all of your experience, high school marks and achievements, and your work experience is important. It will help you to get in for vacation work during your studies. Additionally, it will help you to get a job as a candidate attorney. 

A cover letter is a vital document that accompanies your CV when applying for work. However, a cover letter needs to be unique for every firm that you apply to as a student, graduate or attorney. 

Interview skills

When prospective employers have looked at your resume, they might invite you to an interview. Doing well in the interview will give you a good chance to be employed. The competition in the legal market is fierce. Therefore, make sure you learn and practice these interviewing skills

Additionally, practice answering common interview questions with your fellow students or your family. This will help you to prepare for your vacation work, candidate attorney or attorney jobs. 

People also ask

How long does it take to become a lawyer in South Africa?

It takes at least 4 years to become a lawyer in South Africa. However, if you would like to become an attorney, you will need to complete a 4 year LLB degree and 2 years of articles for a total of at least 6 years. 

What are the requirements for becoming a lawyer?

To become an attorney in South Africa you will need to complete an LLB degree, 2 years of articles, pass the board exams and be admitted as an attorney by the High Court of South Africa.

What does it take to become a lawyer in South Africa?

To become a lawyer in South Africa takes a minimum of 6 years. 4 Years for the LLB degree and 2 years of articles. You will also have to complete the 4 board exams and be admitted to as an attorney by the high court of South Africa. 

How much does an attorney earn in South Africa?

An attorney in South Africa can earn anything from R400 000 as a junior attorney to R3 500 000 as a senior partner at one of the big 5 law firms in South Africa. 


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Admission Application Template Pack

Fill out this form to download your FREE copy of our template pack for the application to be admitted as legal practitioner.

The template pack includes:

  • A checklist for the application for admission in terms of the Legal Practice Act
  • A list of requisite annexures
  • A template for the notice of motion
  • A template for the founding affidavit
  • A template for the supporting affidavit