Struggling to find articles? Getting the right job as a candidate attorney in South Africa can be difficult. But, don’t despair – there is hope.
Although our universities pump out more graduates than there are jobs for, this isn’t the problem. The problem is that LLB graduates have no idea where to find the candidate attorney jobs that are right for them. Here are some ways to find your perfect candidate attorney position and my thoughts on them.
1. Apply to the big five
You know which five firms I’m talking about.
This is the most obvious route, marketed to law students across the country at lavish career fairs. For this, you’ll need to start applying early. The big firms pick their candidates years in advance. You’ll also have to have to have good to excellent marks across the board.
This is the right route for people who are competitive and can handle stress.
Start by applying for their vacation programs. The big firms treat these as extended interviews. So if you get one, remember that you are being assessed at every moment.
The advantage of this route is that you get to say you did your articles at a well-known firm. The disadvantage is that you’ll have to constantly work harder than your peers to be kept on as an associate afterwards and may not get the experience you would get in a smaller firm. Most big firms take on way more candidate attorneys than they have room for associates, so they just can’t keep everyone on.
Also, you need to be a legal generalist. Most big firms will rotate you through departments every six months. Although you’ll get to try lots of different things, you might struggle to get stuck into the law that interests you most
2. Trawl the internet
Smaller firms don’t have the massive advertising budgets that the big firms have, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have articles.
Search for “candidate attorney positions” and you’ll see that the classified sites, like Gumtree, come up high. Set up RSS feeds to tell you the moment someone posts a candidate attorney ad. Then you need to be quick off the mark and the first one to send them your CV.
But, read the ad thoroughly first. Make sure it’s the kind of firm you can see yourself working for, then tailor your CV to show them that you’ve applied your mind to how you’ll be able to add value to their firm.
If you do this well, you’ll get an interview. Here’s where you need to decide whether you can spend the next 12 to 24 months working with these attorneys.
This approach is recommended for people who don’t have legal connections and can make decisions whether something is going to work for them based on small amounts of information.
3. Use your connections
If you can meet admitted attorneys through your family and friends, do it. The best way to find out what kind of law suits you is to talk to other lawyers who work with it on a daily basis.
If your folks have a lawyer, try and work for them during your university vac.
I have friends who got involved with small firms this way, discovered what law they liked, and got awesome articles jobs as a result.
4. Work out what law you like, then find the firm that does it
This is the holistic method, which requires the most effort. But, it is ultimately the most rewarding.
You will undoubtedly have the opportunity to tailor your law degree towards the end of your studies. Take the courses that you are truly passionate about for some deep personal reason, not the courses that you think will make the most money at the end of the day. You’ll do better at these courses, because they mean the most to you.
Then look for the firms that specialize in these areas of law that you love. Enter into a dialogue with them. Use Twitter or Facebook – even email if they’re not on social media. Send them your research papers. Make it known to them that you think like they do. When they need someone, they’ll remember the plucky graduate who argued with them about some topical legal issue.
This method suits people who know what they want out of their legal career and are lucky enough to find a firm needs the same thing.
I’ve tried all of these methods over the years. I began gunning for the big firms, getting into a few vacation programs, and deciding the intense competition wasn’t for me (also, I got a few rejection letters – phst, details).
I then tried the smaller firms I found on the internet, ended up joining one, stuck it out for ten months, and then decided I didn’t like the stress caused by working in an area of law that I didn’t like.
I was then lucky enough to make some connections that lead me to discover a firm that specialized in areas of law I had always been passionate about.
Finally, I ceded my articles to that firm. It thinks the way I do and does the kind of law I enjoy most. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’m hoping to be admitted early next year.
If you’re an LLB graduate, I wish you similar luck with your path towards admission.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.