The difference between a lawyer, advocate and attorney in South Africa

Thursday, June 30, 2022, 7:44
Author name
Marko van der Merwe
A picture of a lawyer to illustrate the difference between a lawyer, advocate and attorney in South Africa


The difference between a lawyer, advocate and attorney in South Africa can be very confusing to those not operating in the legal profession.  However, once you have read this article, you will understand the difference and be able to explain it to those around you.  

What is a lawyer in South Africa?

A lawyer is basically almost anyone that operates in the legal profession.  It is a legal professional who has an LLB degree and who is practising law.  Advocates and attorneys are also lawyers, however, a lawyer is not necessarily an advocate or attorney.

It is important to note that legal secretaries, paralegals or legal assistants are not lawyers.  To become a conveyancing secretary in South Africa, have a look at the Gawie le Roux Institute of Law’s Conveyancing for legal secretaries (paralegals) course.

After becoming a lawyer (completing your LLB degree) you have two choices, either becoming an attorney or an advocate.

What is an attorney in South Africa?

An attorney is also a lawyer, however, to qualify as an attorney, you need to have an LLB degree, have completed 2 years of articles and been admitted as an attorney by the High Court of South Africa.  Read about how to become an attorney in South Africa.

Candidate attorneys usually earn a low salary during their two years of articles. 

An important part of becoming an attorney is to write the four attorneys’ admission exams:

  • Paper 1: Court Procedures
  • Paper 2: Administration of Estates
  • Paper 3: Attorney’s Practice (Ethics)
  • Paper 4: Accounting

To pass these examinations is not easy and requires a lot of preparation.  To help prepare for these exams, make sure you attend the Gawie le Roux Institute of Law’s Attorneys’ admission exam course.

What is an advocate in South Africa?

Advocates are experts in presenting and arguing cases in court.  Advocates are generally self-employed and are usually members of the Bar Council of their area.  After joining the Bar, you can join an advocate group that generally has office space, a library and a receptionist in which you can rent an office.

An advocate is also a lawyer, however, to qualify as an advocate you will need to do one year of apprenticeship, called ‘pupilage’, write a Bar exam at the General Council of the Bar, and be admitted to the Bar by the High Court of South Africa.  Note that to be admitted as an advocate you will need to have a clean criminal record.

The Bar exams take place during the middle of the year.  You will have to attend evening classes before writing the Bar exam. 

Advocates mainly engage in two activities: 

  • Arguing and presenting cases in court on behalf of attorneys, however, new South African law now allows attorneys to argue cases in court; and
  • Give legal opinions and help with drafting of legal documents related to their field of specialisation. 

Advocates may also, after having obtained a satisfactory level of experience, apply to the President for appointment as Senior Counsel. South African court judges are usually appointed from within the pool of senior counsellors.

If you would like to become a judge one day, you will have to first become an advocate. 


Becoming an advocate or an attorney both require an LLB degree, practical experience, completing relevant professional exams, and being admitted by the High Court of South Africa. However, these career paths require different skills.  Advocates generally need skills to present and argue cases in court while attorneys mostly use their general knowledge of the law to consult with their clients and give legal advice. 

Both of these career paths can lead to high salaries and job satisfaction. 

People also ask

How much does a lawyer make in South Africa?

A lawyer who is neither an attorney nor an advocate can expect to make anything from R3 500 (during practical training) per month after completing an LLB degree.  However, with 2-3 years of experience you can expect to earn up to R25 000 per month at a legal firm.

What do attorneys do in South Africa?

Attorneys in South Africa generally give legal advice, meet with clients, and write up contracts.  They also usually specialise in one aspect of the law, such as Family Law, Tax Law, or Commercial Law.



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