Lawyers, Attorneys, Advocates, Legal Practitioners, what are they all? Do I go to an attorney or an advocate if I have a legal problem? Does an advocate cost more than an attorney and can I go directly to an advocate? These are a few questions that are posed on a regular basis regarding attorneys and advocates whether you reside in Cape Town, Pretoria, Bloemfontein or Durban.
Many people get confused as to what is an advocate or attorney, and who do they go to with their legal problems? Legal Practitioners experience this question a lot. We will in this page attempt to explain, in an easy way, what are the differences between attorneys and advocates whether they are practising in Cape Town or Port Elisabeth. We will start with the term Lawyer or Legal Practitioner. Kindly note that this article is written for the lay person and is not in any way a full outline on the profession of attorneys and advocates. Some attorneys and advocates may disagree with what we have to say, in the same manner other advocates and attorneys would agree. I guess it depends on your experiences in the legal profession.
The Lawyer or Legal Practitioner
In our view, whoever studied law and practises any aspect thereof are lawyers or legal practitioners. Therefore, all advocates, attorneys, prosecutors, judges, magistrates, state prosecutors, legal advisors etc. are all lawyers or legal practitioners. It makes sense as they all studied law and uses it to earn a living. But not all lawyers do the same work or uses the law in a specific manner. That is where the differentiation comes in between attorneys and advocates etc.
Unless the attorney is a specialist, specialising in a specific field of law, he or she would be a general practitioner and assist the public with general legal matters. This general legal assistance would include criminal matters in the magistrate’s courts, suing and defending civil matters in the magistrate’s court and general legal advice and assistance. Even if the case is a High Court matter, the attorney, unless he or she has High Court rights of appearance, would still instruct an advocate. Many attorneys are conveyancers and notaries.
Conveyancers are attorneys who have specialised training and knowledge to deal with the transfer of property and matters relating to them. A notary, or a notary public, deals with notarising documents, authenticating them etc. Therefore, a general practising attorney would deal with day to day legal matters for clients as they arise. If you have a legal problem, you would head off to the attorney’s office and he or she would advise you accordingly. The attorney would then analyse your matter and usually be able to sort out your problem without the assistance of an advocate. The attorney might send out a letter of demand, issue summons and even represent you at court. However, if the matter becomes too complicated, or more assistance is needed on the matter, then an advocate may be briefed. Even if the attorney instructs the advocate, his hourly rate may be more than that of the attorney, depending on his experience and years of practice. The Advocate would however invoice the Attorney for services rendered and not the client.
Now that we dealt with the attorney, we shall deal with the advocate. For now, and until the Legal Practice Act is fully in operation, if you want the assistance of an advocate, you would need to first approach an attorney. From or about August 2018, the public would be able to brief advocates who hold trust accounts, directly. This would make an end to the practice where only attorneys may instruct advocates. Once the Legal Practice Act is in full operation, you would be able to instruct and advocate holding a Trust Account. However, for now, an attorney would be able to advise you if you require the assistance of an advocate. Advocates usually do court work or litigation and further, if the matter requires specialised skills and knowledge. Therefore, if it is a matter dealing with fraudulent misrepresentation, and your attorney has limited knowledge thereof, then it would make sense that the matter be referred to an advocate who has the time, knowledge and skill to attend to the matter. If, however your matter needs to be heard in the High Court due to the amount of money involved or the nature of the matter, an advocate may be briefed. Advocates further provide legal opinions and some of them sit in as acting judges. Advocates will however never do work which is specific for attorneys and further, without a referral from an attorney. Therefore, even if you email an advocate for advice, he or she would at the very most, refer you to an attorney. With regard to the experience of the Advocate, his hourly rate may be more than that of the attorney, but not necessary. If you are in search of an attorney or advocate, search through our directory or contact us to recommend you on.