Bloemfontein High Court

What exactly is the Role of an Advocate?

All who earn their living engaged in practicing the law are called lawyers, including judges, magistrates, advocates, attorneys, and university lecturers. There are two main branches of legal practitioners:

Attorneys, who do legal work of all kinds, and

Advocates, who are court specialists.

Attorneys are the business managers of cases and they decide when an advocate is or is not necessary to be engaged to act for the clients. Advocates have no direct contact with clients. For this reason advocates are said to be in a referral profession. Attorneys are the lawyers that clients see first with their problems. Attorneys give general advice in the law. Advocates (also called counsel) get briefed by attorneys to take on cases  when a specialist skill is needed in a court case or in research into the law. Attorneys form professional companies and firms and practice in partnership with each other. Advocates are individual practitioners and never form partnerships. Advocates may become members of the Bar.

  • Uses verbal and writing skills to understand, to explain and to persuade.
  • Reads many documents and digests a lot of factual information.
  • Researches the law in books and on computer databases.
  • Uses listening skills to digest the stories told by clients in a consultation and to the evidence given by witnesses in court.
  • Diagnoses from the facts and the law what exactly is the question to be decided.
  • Drafts pleadings which state in very careful terms what the issues are that the court or the arbitrator must decide.
  • Gives advice on problems and explains difficult choices to attorneys and to clients in opinions.
  • Negotiates with colleagues over the settlement or the conduct of cases.
  • Guides witnesses to give their evidence by asking questions and tests the truth and value of the evidence given by witnesses by cross-questioning them.
  • Drafts arguments setting out the facts and law relevant to the decisions to be decided.
  • Argues a case for a client to persuade a Judge or Magistrate or Arbitrator.

From where do advocates get their work?

  • Advocates do not receive briefs directly from clients, and thus all their work is referred to them by other lawyers.
  • Private sector practicing firms of attorneys brief advocates on a case by case basis to do work.
  • The State Attorney, who represents Government Departments also briefs advocates in a similar way.
  • The Legal Aid Board provides financial assistance to poor people who would not otherwise afford an attorney or an advocate, and sometimes with and sometimes without collaboration with private sector attorneys, the Legal Aid Board instructs advocates to do work.