A career in law – What could this mean?
20 Jul 2020
Mention to anyone that you are studying law or are a lawyer and it is likely you will be asked what area of practice you want to go into, or are in. In many cases, it doesn’t matter what your answer is as most people believe lawyers work in law firms, drafting contracts or perhaps looking at consumer complaints and divorces.
I am a regulatory law specialist. Do you know what that is? Colleagues of mine are competition law specialists. Other colleagues practice family law, dispute resolution and mediation, and some are working at the Human Rights Commission. Many more of my colleagues work as in-house legal counsel for large companies, ranging from retailers like Pick n Pay, to mining companies.
Opportunities to work in the legal profession are vast. There are so many different types of lawyer, so many different ways to use your legal degree. An LLB is an excellent stepping-stone to commerce, for example, and many businessmen and women complete an LLB as well as a BComm to qualify themselves to work in big business. Some engineers and economists are qualified lawyers, as are several BSc graduates. Patent lawyers, for example, have to have completed an electrical, mechanical or chemical engineering degree – sometimes at a Masters level as well as an LLB.
Regulation is in itself, a wide-ranging area of law. It is often ignored as a discipline because no one understands what it is. There are however, several types of regulatory authority in any country, having authority to license, monitor, censure and authorize various activities such as mining, banking, insurance, telecommunications, broadcasting, competition, water and electricity. Where state resources are used, a regulatory authority will often work alongside a Ministry to ensure efficient and effective use of those resources by the public and private sectors. In South Africa, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (“NERSA”) governs electricity provider ESKOM, the Competition Commission has authority in relation to competition in the Republic (all of it), the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa or ICASA regulates telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services.
Regulation often goes hand in hand with the development, application and interpretation of law and national policy. But you can also become a state law advisor working directly on the drafting of Bills and Acts, or a prosecutor, or a magistrate, or a Master of the office dealing with deceased estates if you want to work in the public sector.
If you want to avoid the public sector, you could give back to the profession if you have a flair for teaching by becoming a lecturer in one of the many subjects comprising the LLB and post-graduate law qualifications.
Within a large law firm, you could find the following departments: litigation, mergers and acquisitions, competition, finance, property, labour, family law, and public law. Yet other types of law include conveyancing, becoming a notary public, advising on banking or insurance law, specializing in medical law, tax, or engineering and construction law. Intellectual property lawyers other than patent lawyers comprise specialists in copyright law, and related practice areas such as trademarks and the protection of inventions, artistic works, musical compositions and design. International law specialists deal with treaties and cross-border arrangements, commitments to measures on pollution, trade, and travel, and could even give you access to opportunities to work with international organisations.
Smaller firms may focus on more general areas of law including divorce, maintenance, child protection, traffic offences, debt collection, and property transactions. Sales of property and other assets are dealt with in most law firms. Similarly, in-house lawyers will be required to understand and give effect to the basic provisions of the law of sale, corporate law (including the Companies Act), and the Consumer Protection Act.
Do you know where you want to end up? Do you want some exposure to different areas of the law before you make up your mind? As an intern, you could get 12 months’ experience in a variety of positions while employed, gaining experience and training before you commit yourself. Taking a bespoke psychometric test like the one offered by ClearlawSA will also help you to identify areas where you could use some support or upskilling.
The law is a big wide world. Don’t let yourself be limited. Use your LLB as a foundation for growth.
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