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Article by listed AttorneyNanika Prinsloo

The Law Society and Attorneys - connected to each other like a spider to its web

The Law Society and Attorneys cannot exist without each other.  The Law Society is the body that regulates Attorneys and if there were no profession as Attorneys, the Law Society would not exit.  An attorney must register with the Law Society. This includes all persons who hold a law degree and have completed articles and have passed the bar exam.  One is not allowed to be called an attorney or practise as one if one has not passed a bar exam and completed the article period, was admitted by the High Court as an attorney and is registered with the Law Society.

If the attorney actually practices law, he/she will be registered as such. In this instance the attorney must pay yearly fees to the Law Society, submit audited yearly financial statements and need to have a Fidelity Fund Certificate. An attorney is not allowed to practice law if he/she does not hold a Fidelity Fund Certificate.

The Attorneys Fidelity Fund is a statutory body (created by law). The Fidelity Fund protects the public against dishonest and negligent attorneys.  If a client instructed an attorney to complete work for him/her and the attorney caused damages to the client as a result of his/her negligent or fraudulent actions, the Fidelity Fund can compensate the client for his/her losses.  The Fidelity Fund is an independent body of the Law Society.  A Fidelity Fund certificate is issued to an attorney if the attorney has handed an audited report that confirms that the attorney is managing his/her trust account in a manner that complies with the rules of the profession and legislation.

A person who holds a law degree but did not pass the bar exam and did not article, is not an attorney but a person who holds a law degree. These persons do not register with the Law Society and is not covered by the Law Society and its rules or the legal profession’s legislation.  A person who has written the bar exam and completed the period of articles and was admitted as an attorney by the High Court,  but do not practise as an attorney, is still an attorney but may not practise the law.  If one wants to practise the law, one must comply with the requirements of what constitutes an attorney plus one has to be registered with the Law Society.

The Law Society and Attorneys co-exist and the one warrants the existence of the other.  

The Law Society and the Attorneys that are registered to it, have a close relationship because the Attorneys fund the Law Society by paying yearly membership fees.  All interest that is earned on monies held in the attorney’s trust account is paid over to the Law Society.  (It means therefore that if you pay money over to an attorney and he/she keeps it in their trust account, you will not earn interest on it as long as it stays in the attorney’s trust account. The attorney will only invest the monies if you instruct him/her to do so). The Law Society pays these monies over to the Fidelity Fund who uses these monies to pay out clients who suffered damages.

The Law Society and Attorneys are in regular contact, because practicing attorneys are obliged to hand in yearly audited financial statements of their trust accounts to the Law Society. An attorney may not practice unless he/she is in possession of a Fidelity Fund Certificate.  This Certificate is issued when an attorney has proved that his/her trust account is managed well and correctly and all fees and interest have been paid to the Law Society.

A client, who is unhappy with an attorney’s services or has suffered damages as a result of an attorney’s actions, can lay a complaint with the Law Society who will investigate and make a finding. If it is found that the client suffered damages as a result of the attorney’s actions, the client may be compensated by the Fidelity Fund.  

It is reassuring for the public to know that the Law Society protects the public.