Tips and advice on becoming a candidate attorney Quarter 2 2022

By FIONA WORWOOD, Published in Top Students 2021

You're nearing the end of your LLB degree and about to embark on your journey as a candidate attorney – Congratulations! The legal profession is a noble one; it comes with many wonderful, exhilarating moments, and some stressful ones too.


Your time as a candidate attorney is set to be the toughest, and yet probably the most memorable and rewarding, of your career. You've surely been warned of the love-hate relationship you may develop with the photocopy machine, and the gruelling hours of magistrate's court appearances. However, what few mention is the mentorship and the foundation that you receive from excellent, experienced legal minds in the fraternity.

Your articles are a time to learn, develop and experience the law hands on. It is extremely important to find a firm that offers you the opportunity to engage meaningfully with various aspects of the law. From court appearances to meetings with counsel and consultations with clients, you want to get exposure to it all. One of the most fundamental characteristics that any candidate attorney should have is a desire to learn; this will help you on those late nights attending to urgent matters or studying for admission exams. There are many people in the profession willing to teach those who are willing to learn.

This profession allows you to encounter a new problem to solve every day, with a diverse range of practice areas. You will never experience the mundane – from complex tax structures to assisting in a family matter, to closing a commercial contract or even dealing in property transfers, there is something for everyone.

Taking the initiative and becoming a problem solver will serve you well in the years to come, should you choose to become an attorney, but to help you along the way, here are a few tips which may assist:

1. Ask questions. Rather ask a question to receive clarity on a task than perform a task incorrectly due to a misunderstanding. It is especially important to ask for assistance or clarity at the time that the instruction is given, and not right before the deadline, as this may affect the deadline that your seniors are trying to make for their clients.

2. Always carry a notepad. You may be given an instruction on your way out of the office, or in a formally arranged meeting. Having a notepad will help to ensure that you obtain and record the correct instruction.

3. Learning to time manage is crucial. As a budding attorney, you will soon learn that attorneys sell their time, and part and parcel of this is adequate time management. Allocating a certain amount of time to tasks may assist, as well as making a to-do list each day, to check off the tasks needing to be completed.

4. Proof read the document or email again. It is very easy to omit an attachment or miss a spelling error which could be easily fixed by reading over the document or email again.

5. Expect the unexpected. Keep a spare set of shoes in the car, along with a suit jacket, permanent marker and a black pen – trust me.

6. Expectation and reality. During my articles, the phrase 'management of expectations' was drilled into me. This boils down to communicating information to prevent gaps between an expectation and a reality. This means informing your seniors when you need more time to complete tasks, or that you do not have capacity to take on further tasks. The same applies when dealing with clients and adequately informing them of when deadlines and deliverables will be due; and, in the event that there is a delay, updating the client.

Pursuing a career in law is going to be a roller coaster. Working for a firm which supports you on this journey, that assists you to learn and offers you the platform to gain this exposure, is key to a successful career. An open-door policy and a firm of legal professionals who are willing to invest the time to teach, motivate, encourage and guide you during your articles is priceless.

In your legal career, you will always be challenged – mentally, emotionally and intellectually. It is not for the weak or the faint of heart, but one thing is certain: the hard work you put in at the start of your career will help you in the future.

Worwood is an Associate Commercial, Property & Litigation with Cowan-Harper-Madikizela.