“Think carefully before becoming a lawyer.”
These are the words of advice from Chris van der Maas, a Knysna attorney and the editor and founder of www.lawyer.co.za – a new website where one can locate a law firm with extensive free information on lawyers and the law in South Africa.
According to recent media reports there has been an upsurge in the number of people who wish to study law following ongoing media coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial and the court room skills on display of prosecutor Gerrie Nel and defence advocate Barry Roux. According to Chris, the same happened in the early Eighties when he studied law and the popular TV series LA Law hit the local screens.
There are a number of reasons, according to Chris, why a person should think carefully before embarking on a legal career.
Firstly, the sheer number of law students at SA’s 14 university law faculties and new admissions as attorneys (more than 1500 in 2013) means that you will not be guaranteed to find employment at a law firm. Unless your marks are excellent, you are unlikely to find work at one of the country’s prestigious Law Firms.
Secondly, the 4 year LLB degree that is currently the only degree required to practice as an attorney in South Africa, is viewed by many in the legal profession as not adequately preparing law students for legal practice. Wits University has already indicated that those who wish to study law in 2015 must first complete a three year degree, before completing the two year LLB degree, and other universities may follow. Which means that you may have to study longer.
Thirdly, the reality of practicing law, especially as a criminal defence attorney, is far less glamorous than portrayed in the Oscar Pistorius case – for that you need to spend only one day observing any Magistrate’s Court in South Africa, the places where the majority of cases take place. Overloaded court-rolls, endless delays and postponements are the order of the day.
But, says Chris, a career in law can still be very rewarding, and, besides, some 50 percent of all law graduates do not practice law but work in other fields, mostly business related.
Judgement in the Oscar Pistorius case on will be on 11 September 2014.
On 11 September 2014 Justice Mapisa caused somewhat of a legal upset when Pistorius was acquitted of the murder charge, but was instead convicted on the competent verdict of culpable homicide – in itself a very serious crime. Asked what he predicted the sentence would be Chris replied: 10 years imprisonment in terms of Section 276(1) (i) of the Criminal Procedure Act 55 of 1977 (as amended) – which would imply Pistorius spending a third of his sentence in prison and the rest at home under strict correctional supervision.