The practising legal professions are divided into two branches, namely attorneys and advocates. An attorney is the person with whom one first makes contact when seeking legal advice. Advocates have specialised expertise in various areas of the law, especially in the presentation of cases in court.
Advocates are primarily experts in the art of presenting and arguing cases in court.
Advocates also give legal opinions and help with the drafting of legal documents that are required in every walk of life, be they commercial, industrial or domestic.
They perform two main functions, namely the handling of criminal and civil cases and giving legal advice. Advocates may conduct civil and criminal cases in various courts of law by appearing either for a defendant or a plaintiff in a civil case, or for the State or an accused in a criminal case.
Civil action results when the private interest of two parties or persons causes a dispute but where the State and its laws have not directly been violated or affected. Examples are claims for damages, disputes over contracts, insurance claims, divorce cases etc.. A criminal case is instigated by the State against someone who has allegedly violated or committed an offence against the law of the country.
Clients do not generally contact an advocate directly, but are referred by an attorney or lawyer. The advocate plays an important role by ensuring that all the evidence in favour of the client is placed before the magistrate or judge and by testing the version of the opposing party through cross-examination.
Advocates may specialise in different fields of the legal profession such as water rights, insurance claims, murder cases and libel actions. State advocates specialise in criminal law and in the same way as private practicing advocates, they appear in the Supreme Court, the Appeal Court and in lower courts, and also do a wide variety of chamber work.