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The Legal Profession: Lawyers: Who are they and what functions do they deliver?

In this blog; we thought we would answer a question which often arises; as the man in the street gets confused between lawyers, attorneys, advocates and several other generic names for those who practice law as legal practitioners.

We hope to clarify this question.

Who and what are lawyers?

A lawyer is anyone who is legally qualified and specialises in the legal field. This is a very wide field and includes a vast array of people.

There are attorneys, advocates, legal consultants, legal advisors, paralegals and people who teach law at the various universities and colleges throughout the country and in fact the world. They are ALL lawyers as they almost all hold some tertiary legal degree or diploma. They must have this type of qualification to qualify and be called “a lawyer.”

The largest segment of the legal profession is that of the Attorneys.

They practice law in various capacities as attorneys, notaries or conveyancers and some do all three. A Notary specialises in Notarial work which includes ANC’s and mining contracts. Conveyancers specialise in Deeds Office work including the transfer and registration of immovable property and the registration of mortgage bonds. Attorneys specialise in many fields: Litigation; commercial work, criminal law, labour law, oil, gas and energy law, shipping law, family law and many other categories. The trend these days is for attorneys to specialise in one or other field of the law; and very few practice in all areas of the law as a general practitioner. When they do they are normally in small or even one man legal practices.

Advocates also practice law, but generally specialise in litigation in both the High Courts and Lower Courts; and in Chamber work; which is the furnishing of specialist advice on a wide range of legal work including labour law, commercial work and tax; among others. They are specialists and generally cannot be briefed to act in a matter unless briefed by a practising attorney.

Legal Consultants and Legal Advisors generally work in the commercial and financial sector with big companies and corporations and do not practice law.

The last major category of lawyers is those that teach law courses. Lecturers, senior lecturers, doctors of law and professors all teach at law schools, colleges and universities.

Paralegals are generally speaking not lawyers; although they can be qualified lawyers and assist/support lawyers in the practice of law; generally attorneys, with research, typing and other duties. They also can provide legal advice and also admitted attorneys or advocates; although there are also exceptions to this rule; where qualified attorneys also do legal and private paralegal work, give legal advice and provide legal services for other legal practitioners and their own clients but do not themselves practice as attorneys.

At The Legal Advice Office, we are not attorneys or advocates although we have the necessary qualifications and we specialise in giving our clients and customers general legal advice and also provide legal and paralegal services. We do all the background work ourselves and brief our specialist panel attorneys ONLY as and when necessary; as those services are generally much more expensive than the services that we provide. We do not strictly speak practice law, but have qualified legal staff and legal consultants; and only use attorneys and advocates when absolutely necessary as for example for formal court appearances; in order to save our clients unnecessary costs.

We trust that this very brief and concise explanation will clarify for you some of the issues and the differences between the various categories of lawyers

About our author:

Hugh Pollard (Legal Consultant), has a BA LLB and 41 years’ experience in the legal field. 22 years as a practising attorney and conveyancer; and 19 years as a Legal Consultant.

082-0932304 (Hugh’s Cell Number)

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Legal Advice Office

South Africa

Kandelaar Street, Vermont, Hermanus
Phone: +27 (0) 82 093 2304