Completing a bachelor of laws (LLB) is only the first of several lengthy, expensive steps towards qualifying as a lawyer.

Scores of LLB students and graduates have taken to Twitter to share their struggles and frustrations over the long, tough road to qualifying as legal practitioners.  

This started with Tebatso Mankgeru (27), a Unisa LLB 2019 graduate and candidate attorney doing his law articles, posting a viral Twitter thread warning disadvantaged students specifically that pursuing an LLB as a first qualification is ”a financial and psychological mistake”. 

Among the hurdles he listed were a reliance on NSFAS while completing the degree, the struggle to secure articles after graduating, low income while completing articles and law school being unaffordable. 

“Everything I wrote… is based on direct experience,” Mankgeru told Wits Vuvuzela. His family’s lack of funding meant that he relied on NSFAS to cover his LLB tuition fees, and his textbooks were sponsored. He adds that law is his passion and that he wants to qualify as an attorney, but the financial burdens are severe.  

Mankgeru, who is from Limpopo, says that his family’s initial expectation was that his LLB degree would automatically secure him a well-paying job to support them after he graduated. The reality is far different, and universities should inform students that completing an LLB is only the first of several lengthy steps towards qualifying as a legal practitioner. 

Many LLB graduates often struggle to secure two years of articles at a law firm, compulsory for an attorney qualification. Articles typically pay minimum wage, which cannot easily support candidate attorneys’ families, pay off student loans or fund law school fees.  

Mankgeru says his R4 000 articles stipend barely covers food and rent, and he often relies on family and friends for support. He cannot afford law school, so is opting to complete his articles and write board exams in 2022. 

He struggled for most of 2020 to secure articles, which made him feel hopeless and even suicidal. He says such feelings are common among long-term unemployed LLB graduates.  

“I know people who graduated before me who are still struggling to secure articles,” he says. “Maybe the tweets went viral because a lot of people can relate… I don’t wish anyone to go through what I’m going through.” 

A Twitter user, @AphiweSofuthe, replied to Mankgeru’s Twitter thread saying, “I wish someone had told me this earlier, I’m in my final year and I don’t see myself accepting [R2 500] every month: because circumstances are not allowing me to.” Another user, @Karabo_Rasseala, tweeted, “Wish you told me this 4 years back.”  

Wits Vuvuzela  spoke to a qualified attorney, who wishes to remain anonymous, about why LLB graduates often struggle to qualify. 

“It’s the fact that students aren’t really aware of the state of the legal industry until they step into it,” he says. “The universities are supposed to educate the students in their first year of what the situation is, but… fall short on that.” 

He adds that law firms have limited article clerk positions because it costs firms money to appoint them. Clerks work at a firm for two years to complete their articles, and firms have a limited number of directors who act as qualified principals who oversee one clerk at a time.  

South Africa’s high unemployment rate, tough economic climate and high number of annual LLB graduates also mean fewer opportunities for firms to appoint candidate attorneys.  

“The industry is set up in such a way that there are simply not enough positions available,” he says. “I only started getting applications now for people that want clerk articles in 2022. Our [firm’s] positions for 2023 have already been booked because of the two-year period [to complete articles].” 

He adds that LLB students should build relationships and gain experience while studying by doing vacation work at law firms specialising in their legal field of interest.  

A Wits LLB 2020 graduate, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she is having “a very challenging experience” with securing articles.  

“I do have friends who have been able to secure articles after months of searching and some via help of people who have connections. I do also have friends who have been searching for over a year and nothing has come up,” she says.  

“I would advise [LLB students] to score very high marks to better their chances [of employment], start searching for articles as early as first year, [and] put money away for law school.”

The Wits school of law had not responded to Wits Vuvuzela by the time of publishing. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Law students standing outside the Wits Law Clinic on West Campus. Photo: File