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Article by listed attorney: Fawzia Khan

On 23 September 2015, our law firm was privileged to be invited to participate in the UNISA College of Law (Durban) Career’s Day. I and a few other attorneys were asked to deliver a talk to the senior Unisa law students about life as a candidate attorney. The career day was to expose the law students, (many of whom have had no prior practical experience or knowledge), to what it’s like to work in a law firm and hopefully bridge the gap between the academic work and the practical training they would receive before being admitted as fully-fledged attorneys. The key objective being to ensure that students are able to effectively transition from law graduates into capable and competent attorneys and advocates who can hold their own in their chosen law career.

All law graduates who want to be admitted as attorneys are required to join a law firm as a candidate attorney where they receive practical law training for a defined period of time, usually between 1-2 years. A candidate attorney is required to enter into a contract with an admitted attorney who has been in legal practice in excess of 6 years as his or her principal. During this term of articles, the principal is required to act as a mentor and facilitate the transfer of skills to the candidate attorney and cultivate the knowledge which the student would need in order to run a law firm. The candidate attorney would be expected to learn how to properly consult with a client, how to take proper instructions, know what solutions and options are available to the client, what the proper court etiquette is in the different courts, how to run a trial, and receive general training on the running of a law firm.

The School of Legal Practice which is part of the Law Society of South Africa, runs a six month post law degree programme where law graduates are taught by law practitioners about the practical aspects of being an attorney or advocate. Students wanting to be admitted as attorneys and who attend these programs can then join a law firm and serve articles for a period of one year. Those who don’t attend this Legal Practice School will be required to serve articles for two years. Once the candidates fulfill their term of articles, they are required to write their attorneys admission examination. Thereafter they can be admitted as attorneys.

The UNISA Career Day was very well attended and the students were keen to learn as much as they could about what their professional working life would be like, once they graduated with their requisite law degrees. The students asked some insightful questions and the day itself was heralded as a success. The students were also advised on the dos and don’ts when applying for a job as a candidate attorney. Even though the talks was geared towards the law graduate, much of the information which my colleagues and I shared, could be applied to any graduate seeking to get a job in his or her chosen professional field or discipline. Some of the tips included the following: -

  • Don’t lie on your CV. Some firms will take the time and effort to investigate your credentials and claims in your CV.
  • With social media being all-invasive, be very careful about how you conduct and express yourself in the various social media networks. Employers are very likely to do a search on the candidate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and see what sort of person the candidate is outside of his or her professional persona.
  • Dress appropriately for the interview. Do not come in for an interview in jeans and slops or in any attire that more suited for clubbing or weekend wear.
  • Don’t be late for the interview.
  • You are being informally observed from the moment you step into the front door, by the receptionist and general staff and then formally by the interviewer.
  • Answer all questions put in the interview honestly. If you don’t know the answer to something, there’s nothing wrong with saying so. The interviewer will not expect you to know all the law. Remember your job is to get training. What the interviewer will look for is a willingness to learn.
  • It’s also ok to make mistakes. Once. If the same mistake is repeated expect some backlash.
  • Communication is key for a lawyer. A candidate must learn how to talk and write effectively to both to the client and the opposition firm of attorneys.
  • For many law firms, our firm included, it really doesn’t matter which university you obtained your degree from. What is important is that you do have that requisite law degree. Once that’s sorted, you can focus on developing and honing your professional skills to make you stand out from the crowd and be “the best you can be”.


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