Qualifying with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree is a massive milestone, the culmination of years of hard work, late nights, intense focus, and unrelenting dedication. But as many law graduates realise when they leave the university gates for the last time, achieving this notable qualification is only the first step on the road to becoming a legal professional, as many are unsure regarding what their next step should be, and what the options available to them are.
Those graduating with an LLB degree often have many questions and concerns regarding their future after completing the degree, but they need to understand that there are various paths toward employment and that they need to put in the work to investigate what is the right approach for them as well as the options in the jobs marketplace.
Traditionally, law graduates either became attorneys (through articles of clerkship) or advocates (through pupillage). However, there are many more options now available to graduates, including in academia, the National Prosecuting Authority, in non-law related services, and via self-employment.
LLB graduates who want to become attorneys now need to secure a Practical Vocational Training Contract at a reputable law firm post-graduation. Assuming the graduate does secure this contract, they are then expected to have gainful employment after completing the training. The candidate legal practitioner will be expected to complete a minimum of two years of training or undertake six months of practical legal training at the Law Society of South Africa’s Legal Education and Development (LEAD) division to reduce their training contract to one year in preparation for the Competency-Based Examinations for Legal Practitioners, of which there are four to be completed and passed before the candidate legal practitioner being in a position to make application to the High Court for Admission as an Attorney.
Pupillage is the pathway toward becoming a practicing Advocate in what is referred to as private practice. This path requires a year of unpaid Pupillage and after its completion, the pupil is expected to write and pass the National Bar Examination of the General Council of the Bar.
Entering academia requires the graduate to study further and hone their knowledge and research skills to become an expert in a field of their choice. The ‘would-be’ scholar will be expected to complete their undergraduate degree and a two-to-three-year LLM/MPhil Degree to qualify as a lecturer at a foundational level. The graduate will further be expected to complete their Ph.D./LLD Degree, which will take two to five years to complete, to progress further in academia. This career path requires a passion for lifelong learning and teaching, and gaining a reputation as a peer-reviewed published scholar.
The National Prosecuting Authority recently re-opened the Aspirant Prosecutor Programme. A graduate who applies to this programme and is accepted will be expected to pass the entry exam and will then begin practicing as an Aspirant Prosecutor for one year. After completing this process, the Prosecutor may apply for a permanent position as a prosecutor.
Non-law related services
There are many careers where a law degree is required or is even considered an advantage, yet where the focus of the field is not law-specific. These career paths include but are not limited to various financial, human resource, labour relation, commercial, and even not-for-profit organisations.
LLB graduates also have a strong foundation from which to launch entrepreneurial ventures, as a law degree provides graduates with the tools needed to create employment across a wide range of industries. Graduates who have completed their practical vocational training passed the Competency-Based Examinations and been admitted as an attorney can even practice for their account, provided they have met the other legal and practical requirements.
Becoming a successful legal practitioner requires LLB students to have both critical thinking skills and research skills. This is why prospective LLB students must ensure their higher education institution of choice provides research-based modules and application-styled assessments to ensure they have a competitive advantage when applying for positions after graduation and to prepare them for the world of work after graduation.