Finding Law Articles: Where Should You Begin?

is law for you
15 Apr 2011

Eric Levenstein, director at Werksmans Attorneys, offers some advice to help young attorneys overcome the challenges of finding law articles.

Generally speaking, students at university do not see or appreciate what lies beyond their final legal exams. Often, competent, ambitious and excellent young lawyers are unaware that most law firms in South Africa start looking for articled clerks well before the successful candidates enter their final year at law school. In addition, many of the top law firms choose the bulk of candidate attorneys they take on, based on their performance during the vacation programmes they run for students. These are generally open to students in their penultimate year of study. This means that all candidates should start considering where to do their articles at least two years before they actually graduate from law school. The best advice I can give to law students, then, is: don’t leave it too late!

What are law firms looking for?

Although students might think that finding law articles will be easy if they get top marks; this is not necessarily the case. Many law firms are not only looking for good marks, but also for applicants who are practical, enthusiastic, ambitious, diligent and most importantly, have initiative and get involved, from a very early point, in the firm’s practice. There are limited places and it is important that students understand that even the best applicants might not get articles.

Confusion reigns supreme!

Deciding where to apply can become quite confusing.  There are many good law firms offering excellent training and comprehensive graduate programmes. But law firms are very different.  Students need to choose a law firm with a corporate culture that best suits them and one where they will feel comfortable enough to invest two years serving articles. Another aspect to consider is the type of work a particular law firm specialises in.

Many firms only practise corporate and commercial law; others only do litigation; there are still others that specialise in motor vehicle accidents, administration of trusts or family law. A candidate that is interested in criminal law might find, to his or her dismay, that the particular firm at which he or she secures articles does not practise criminal law. It is therefore important to research the various law firms on the internet to understand what each firm does and can offer candidates. An understanding of a firm’s culture and areas of speciality will help candidates to find those firms that best suit their personalities while matching their interests.  Seeking guidance from lecturers; lawyers that are currently working at law firms; and older students who have already secured articles, is another good way of doing this.

Interviews – be prepared

Interviews are extremely intimidating and many candidates do not know what to expect.  Having said that, the general approach, attitude, demeanour, and the kind of questions the candidate should ask of the interviewers, are key. Extensive preparation, down to attempting to establish who will be on the interview panel and gaining an understanding of the kind of questions that might be asked at the interview, can make the process a lot easier.  My advice is: be relaxed, be yourself, and most importantly, be enthusiastic about the prospect of joining that particular law firm.

Lastly, do not be intimidated by stories of young candidates spending their entire articles making photocopies and doing deliveries.  In most cases there is a portion of time spent on these activities, but depending on the law firm and the manner in which they train candidate attorneys, all young lawyers should expect to be properly trained in various aspects of law; be provided opportunities to interact with clients and counsel; and generally receive a rewarding two years of training during their articles.

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)