A comparison one often hears in the legal fraternity and in general, is that attorneys are like general practitioners and advocates like medical specialists in the medical profession. I strongly disagree.
Attorneys and advocates have, in the past few years, been required to complete at least an LLB-degree (Baccalareus Legum degree) before pursuing their career paths. Therefore, the academic requirement for the two legs of the legal profession is identical. In the past, the legal qualifications for the two legs differed in that attorneys obtained BProc degrees and advocates BIuris degrees but this is not the case any longer.
Once a person obtains his or her LLB-degree, he or she is generally faced with a few career options:
- Complete a year of pupillage which is unpaid and pass your bar examinations to become qualified as an advocate. You apply to the bar association to be allowed to become a pupil and the bar association appoints a pupil’s mentor for the year.
Some advocates belong to the so-called rebel bar, which allow a person with an LLB-degree to practise as an advocate straight-away without first completing pupillage/writing bar examinations.
The court admits an advocate based on a court application setting out that all requirements have been complied with.
- Complete one to two years of articles (depending on what your principal allows) at a firm which accepts you as their candidate attorney. Available positions for candidate attorneys depend on a great variety of aspects, such as a student’s university academic record, if the person completed vacation work at the particular firm, how the person performed in interviews with the specific legal firm and others.
The Law Society does not appoint a principal from a specific legal firm to you and a firm only accepts a candidate attorney for a one or two-year articles contract based on their own considerations/vacancies.
Articles is paid for but the salary fluctuates depending on the size of the legal firm at which articles is completed.
You need to pass your attorney board examinations to become qualified as an attorney.
One cannot practise as an attorney without completion of the above steps.
- Practise as a legal advisor at an institution/company.
Some lawyers pursue one to all three career paths, in various orders. You cannot practise as an attorney and an advocate simultaneously as you are currently either enrolled on the advocates’ roll or the attorneys’ roll. However, this is soon to change which will allow a lawyer to interchangeably practise as an attorney or an advocate.
The day-to-day structure of a typical advocate:
Advocates are briefed/instructed by attorneys. The attorney pays the advocate and therefore the attorney is to ensure they have sufficient funds available before involving an advocate.
Most advocates hire chambers/an office at a specific group of chambers. Strong associations and networks form at chambers. An advocate does not see clients directly or without an attorney present.
An advocate often appears in courts and other legal forums such as tribunals. An advocate therefore wears their robe often as they are in court often.
Advocates may also do appearances in arbitrations and may also supply attorneys with general legal advice/legal opinions which they draft and supply to attorneys.
An advocate may not sign legal papers without their attorney. Advocates prepare legal arguments for the court date.
An advocate sees to the aspect he or she is instructed to see to by the attorney.
The day-to-day structure of a typical attorney:
Attorneys are instructed directly by clients, such as private persons or companies.
An attorney sees clients directly and may or may not involve an advocate in any part of the legal process.
An attorney may practise alone (as a sole proprietor) or with a firm of partners and associates. An attorney may or may not appoint support staff such as secretaries, messengers etc.
Most attorneys are faced with administration such as ensuring that sheriff accounts and advocate accounts are paid for. Advocates are not concerned with these aspects of a matter at all.
Most attorneys do not attend to court appearances often but prefer to have advocates attend to court appearances.
Attorneys also need to ensure that court files are correctly prepared for court dates, correspond with opposing attorneys telephonically or in writing and often speak with their clients. Advocates are not concerned with these aspects of a matter at all.
An attorney, if they have the correct appearance rights, may sign legal papers without an advocate. Advocates prepare legal arguments for the court date.
An attorney generally sees to the bigger picture of a specific legal matter and involves the advocate as and when needed.
In light of the above, I prefer to compare an attorney with a surgeon and an advocate with an anaesthetist. The surgeon sees to the details of the operation and consults with the client before and after the operation. The anaesthetist briefly introduces himself or herself before the operation and sees to a specific part of the operation without which the operation cannot succeed.