To pay for your studies, you have started freelancing. Too bad, you didn’t think about how the onus fell upon you to pay your taxes. You received a notice from the South African Revenue Services (SARS). While negligence in paying your tax could lead to you being fined, as of 2021, a new law states that taxpayers could serve jail time as a result of not paying tax.

Naturally, to avoid facing jail time, you consulted with the right attorney to see what was expected of you and to get advice on ways forward.

Perhaps you are a law school student. Your four-year-long LLB learning journey is quickly coming to an end and you need to decide what type of lawyer you would like to become. While your dad may be advocating for you to become a corporate lawyer, your mum may be adamant that you need to become a family lawyer and work on divorce cases.

You could choose to specialise in a certain field of law. You may have seen your parent or parents face injustice in the workplace and you feel you would be fit to take on labour law cases.

Do you remember the tax lawyer that you consulted to help you settle your tax dispute?  This type of tax lawyer can help you complete tax legislation but can he or she also help you deal with family disputes?

You may engage a barrister or solicitor for family law matters
Both advocates and attorneys may be family lawyers, only they represent different aspects of the law Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt

You would not seek the advice of your very same tax lawyer if you are being sexually harassed in the workplace.  A case of sexual harassment in the workplace is taken to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) within 30 days from when the dispute occurred. If the case has still not been settled, the matter is taken up in labour court.

In fact, such a big concern is sexual harassment in South Africa’s workplaces that extensive research has been conducted on the topic. A very insightful article on sexual harassment and ways forward was posted on the Bergman Moodley Attorneys website, and is a good read if you are interested in learning all about this type of injustice in the workplace.

When you study law, you become a lawyer. That is set in stone! However, there are so many different types of lawyers in existence in South Africa that you need to know which type of lawyer handles each type of case.

Superprof takes your hand and helps you to feel less overwhelmed when dealing with legalese and legal Latin jargon and attempts to outline who the right lawyer for each legal job may be.

Perhaps a good starting point would be to interact with one of the many law tutors based in South Africa.

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Different Types of Lawyers: The Advocate and the Attorney

As a student of law in South Africa, one of the main questions that you need to ask yourself is: would you like to become an attorney or an advocate?

Whether you are choosing to be an attorney or an advocate, you may want to consider getting a law scholarship that will help to ease the financial burden that you will incur when you choose to study law.

While people often use the terms attorney and advocate as if they are synonyms, the two terms are in fact highly different as they refer to the specific role played by two types of lawyers.

Let us take a look at what it is that an advocate does that makes his or her role different from that of an attorney.

Most people choose not to take an interest in the differences between the types of lawyers practising within the broad field of law. If you are still reading it means that you are one of the rare few whose interest in the law field extends beyond the law dramas and serials that feature on your television screen. You would most probably be enthusiastic about studying law in the further education and training sector or you probably are already enrolled in a university deciding on whether to specialise or not.

In fact, in terms of the difference between the advocate and the attorney, specialisation is the only thing that separates those two titles.

Sounds relatively simple, right?

Well, an attorney is someone who has graduated from the 4 years long Bachelor of Law degree (LLB degree). The attorney is also someone who has completed an additional two-year-long internship with a practising attorney. The reason for the internship is so that the newly graduated lawyer can gain hands-on experience from a practising attorney who will show the fresh-out-of-university lawyer what it takes to be an attorney who acts with integrity.

The attorney functions as a legal consultant providing advice on things like family disputes etc. An attorney may also act as a policy adviser. The attorney deals directly with clients but cannot represent them in court. The attorney then refers clients to an advocate.

To step into the role of an advocate, you certainly do have big shoes to fill. Advocates are attorneys who have specialised. Advocates study for a year or more under the leadership of a practising advocate and thereafter go on to write the bar examination. After passing the bar examination, an advocate can start to represent clients in court. Sometimes it may take several years to become an advocate who can represent their clients in the high court as well.

Still baffling to wrap your tongue around the legal law jargon. Check out some legal terms that you need to know to avoid malapropisms and spoonerisms.

Superprof offers law students the chance to work with law tutors who are ready to shed light on certain legal matters.

Kinds of Lawyers Who Take On Different Kinds of Tasks

The attorney would be your first point of contact if a legal issue arises. Attorneys can take on a vast range of cases brought to the fore by individuals and companies. Attorneys will take on fields of law such as business and corporate law, civil law, criminal litigation, as well as provide business and professional advice.

If you are studying to become an attorney, you should pay attention to the banking and financial law sector.

Lawyers in financial affairs
For the last decade, finance attorneys have been instrumental in reshaping banking laws Source: Unsplash

In terms of banking laws, attorneys who work in the banking law sector try to regulate banking institutions and deal with how the banks liaise with one another.

What about educational law?

You may not have thought that this type of law career would be a possibility for you, but it is. Educational lawyers are mainly involved in making sure that the highest standard of education is provided and that all legal matters pertaining to schools, students, and staff are considered.
Have you always been interested in the educational sector? Here is your chance to make a real difference in a sector that may need you.

Employment law is possibly the field of law where you will see most of your clients from. It is within this sector that attorneys address the working relationship between employees and employers. Your main task is to advise clients on how to deal with unfair situations that have occurred within the workplace.

Still, in doubt about whether to study law or not, take a free test lesson with one of our law tutors to see if you should stick around to complete your LLB degree.

What Types of Lawyers are there?

Well you get an attorney and you get an advocate, both are fully capable of helping to a different extent with issues pertaining to:

  • criminal law
  • civil cases and human rights
  • personal injury law cases
  • intellectual property law issues
  • family law
  • immigration
  • criminal law
  • corporate law
  • estate planning
  • medical malpractice cases

You must remember that both these types of lawyers specialise in the above-mentioned issues staying within their jurisdiction.

Yes, advocates deal with certain aspects of the law only. While there are now attorneys with the right to appear in court, advocates present the bulk of cases within the courts. In terms of being an advocate, skills like preparation skills, communication skills, and persuasion skills are of utmost importance. The ethical rule of advocacy does not allow advocates to practise in a partnership or with a company.

So if you are not keen on practising individually under your own name and you would like to work for a specific company, rather go down the attorney route.

Being an advocate is rewarding and a career that is associated with status and prestige. You can read all about the importance and rewards of being an advocate.

As a paralegal, you too may work in a courtroom
More and more, paralegals are taking the stand. Source: Pixabay Credit: Michael D. Beckwith

However, do not close the door to becoming an attorney just as yet. Being an attorney means you could become a:

  • personal injury lawyer
  • criminal lawyer
  • business lawyer
  • litigation lawyer
  • divorce lawyer

Paralegals Exist in South Africa Too

According to The National Paralegal Institute, a paralegal is someone who has the needed qualification and training to work on legal social welfare and related work using knowledge of the law as the basis.

Yes, you will find paralegals working at a law firm. You may also find paralegals working at the South African police services, trade unions, NGO’s and within governmental departments.

At the core of a paralegal's job is to provide basic legal advice while also educating and informing communities about their rights.

You guessed it; there is much scope for a law student in South Africa. If you are really interested in working in the law field, you may need to take a look at some of the top law firms in South Africa.

Is there anyone against you studying law?

If there is take advice from our famous fictional lawyer, Harvey Specter:

“Whenever you find the whole world against you, just turn around and lead.”

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Laila

Laila is an enthusiastic English educator and a fun-filled freelance writer. She has accomplished her dream of getting her first book published and has managed to write over 1 000 000 words since beginning her freelance career. In her free time, she is a travel blogger who explores all South Africa has to offer.