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Candidate Attorney: a proven strategy to secure Articles of Clerkship

Candidate Attorney: a proven strategy to obtain Articles of Clerkship

become a candidate attorney

How to Become a Candidate Attorney and secure Articles of Clerkship in South Africa.

There are many ways to skin the proverbial cat, and becoming a Candidate Attorney (or obtaining articles of clerkship in South Africa) is no different. For the record, at VDI we don’t promote skinning cats at all, rather we promote the growth and development of our youth to become quality legal professionals that our country (and the world)  needs.

VDI is here to help and guide you to land that Candidate Attorney job in the best way possible so that in the near future you have the best options available as a qualified lawyer. For examples of legal jobs that could be available to you once you are an admitted attorney, have a look at our jobs page.


University Scouts for Candidate Attorneys

You may have seen the presence of the “big 5” at your university career days, and no we are not referring to the big 5 animals from the Kruger National Park, although these companies do indeed carry a tremendous presence. The top law firms are scouting talent early on in your academic career at Uni (see top Uni’s), seeking only the best potential lawyers. They will generally select the top few percent of students from 2nd year and follow them through to final year. The students with the highest marks win and may be invited to apply for articles at the said firm after attending holiday vacation programmes which normally happen by way of invitation or application. If you are in your 1st or 2nd year at Uni, the time to get distinctions is NOW. And not for some modules, ALL OF THEM. This will undoubtedly give you the best chance of success in the legal industry and we encourage you to take your academics seriously and give it your absolute all. You will do the same for the clients of your own practice one day, so it is best to cultivate the winner attitude right now. As a strategy to obtain articles, this is a rewarding and challenging route with proven results.

Online Applications

Online applications have a reputation for being tedious, time-consuming and sometimes even compared to a black-hole. But online applications are a good way to find a job whether for articles or other. From a global perspective, online application technology is improving and becoming more streamlined which has its pros, but the cons are that there are more and more job board application sites popping up, therefore, creating potential “choice-fatigue” for candidates, agencies, and employers. A recent survey conducted by VDI recruitment on the use of job boards (from the candidate’s point of view) shows further insight into online applications and the general sentiment around them in SA. Overall, we can vouch that if your CV matches the job spec, you have a good chance of being shortlisted. If you don’t hear back from the company or agency, there is a good chance you are not suitable. We encourage you to try the following job boards for online applications:

There are literally 100’s of additional online job application platforms, but in our experience, the ones listed above cover most of the legal market in SA. This is because of the likes of LinkedIn and Indeed aggregate jobs across most other platforms anyway. LinkedIn and Indeed are also the largest globally, but steep competition is arriving in the market (the likes of Glassdoor and Monster).

Recruitment Agencies

For the majority of aspiring Candidate Attorneys, this is an unlikely way of obtaining articles. The main reason is that there are way more LLB graduates than there are articles vacancies in the market. Therefore, firms do not need to spend on agency fees to secure candidate attorneys. Additionally, due to the low earnings of candidate attorneys in comparison to being an Admitted Attorney, agencies fees would be very small and may not always justify the time spent on dealing with the volume of potential candidates. VDI has chosen not to place Candidate Attorneys but rather help aspiring legal professionals in other ways. Our view is that you focus on the other methods provided in this post. Having said all of this, there are agencies that do place Candidate Attorneys in the South African market and may be quite good at it. You are welcome to engage with these agencies as well.

Direct Applications

If you did not graduate with distinctions in Uni, this is a great way to secure articles at mid-tier and smaller boutique law firms around the country. It takes some effort, but then again, anything worth doing requires effort! Since you find yourself in the boat of applying to law firms directly, there are a few things you should consider:

What law you would like to specialise in?

For example, if you would like to be a construction lawyer or property lawyer, then research firms who specialise in construction law or property law. Even generalist firms may have a specialist construction or property team. You want to be applying to these firms first, as soon as possible, the 3rd year would be good! We encourage you to do your research in 2nd year so that by 3rd year you are already applying.

Who do you send your application to?

You don’t want to annoy anyone off the bat, so send your CV to the email address provided on the website or to the HR manager. But part of being an attorney is negotiating and being able to communicate and be tenacious, so don’t be afraid to send your email to the partners of the firm if there is no feedback from the firm in a few weeks. Call in and follow up with the partner directly if need be. Try and get feedback so that you know where you stand. Do not let this go!

How will you find all these law firms to apply to?

Google of course, however, we suggest that you use attorneys.co.za and download an e-copy of the Horters Legal Directory. With these two resources, you will have access to the majority of the firms available to you in the market. We know of an Attorney who had applied to over 200 firms, had 6 interviews and received 1 offer for articles, true story! Where there is a will there is a way.

How will you keep track of all your applications?

You can use an excel spreadsheet, email folders, anything really as long as you are able to follow up and track your application progress yourself. Unfortunately, there is no single piece of technology with this ability, only technological tools to help at points of the process.

Referrals and Personal Networks

“It’s not what you know but who you know” is not entirely true. You definitely need to know that “what”, but knowing the “who” can be helpful. Network with ex-student colleagues, senior family, and friends, your ex-boss from vac-work, engage with your LinkedIn contacts, engage with anyone who can open the doors to potential articles of clerkship. The caveat of this approach is that networking is something natural and social and cannot be “turned on” just because you need something or else it will come across as disingenuous. During your early years it’s important to be involved in projects, vac-work, volunteer work, networking events, conferences, actually as much as possible to make genuine relationships through your years of study. Many candidates get jobs through this method. It may even be better than direct applications and we would encourage this method throughout your career as a professional.

What to do if you don’t get articles?

Although not an ideal situation to be in you may find yourself dealing with a bit of bad luck even if you have followed the steps outlined above. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and the light will come from unexpected opportunities during this time. For example, a friend of yours may want to cede articles to another firm for some reason, therefore, opening up a referral opportunity. Or you may take up a temporary position in-house as a legal assistant while continuing with other applications. You may find that the extra 6 months allows you to get into that boutique specialist firm you had your eye on instead of the generalist practice that you were not too keen on. Your legal career is just getting started so there is no need to panic. Use the time to your advantage to increase your skills, study a masters or post-grad diploma, write relevant legal articles for LinkedIn or online legal publications (such as http://www.polity.org.za/). This is a small speed bump on a long exciting road ahead.

We hope that this article helps you in your quest to find articles and start your career off on the right track. You have done so well to get into this dynamic profession, so remember to play to your strengths, keep pushing and the right doors will open at the right time.

Kind regards, The VDI Team.