We've got news for you.

Register on TimesLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Legal costs are about to get a whole lot cheaper

22 February 2019 - 06:30 By Ernest Mabuza
The Legal Practice Act now makes it possible for members of the public to approach some advocates directly. File photo.
The Legal Practice Act now makes it possible for members of the public to approach some advocates directly. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Legal costs could be reduced by as much as half, thanks to a new law that came into effect last year.

So says one of the first advocates who will be able to be briefed directly by the public.

Before the Legal Practice Act of 2014 was passed, advocates were not allowed to take briefs directly from a member of the public. Instead, the public had to approach an attorney, who would then brief the advocate. But this has now changed.

The act, which came into operation last year after the Legal Practice Council was formed, states that advocates who want to render legal services without a brief from an attorney must enroll with the newly-established council as trust account advocates.

The council regulates attorneys and advocates.

It also requires those advocates who want to take briefs from members of the public to satisfy the council that they have the knowledge of the accounting necessary for the keeping of records and that they have completed an attorneys' bookkeeping course.

They should also have a Fidelity Fund certificate. These advocates must also operate a trust account and such practices must keep  proper accounting records of the money received.

James Grant, an advocate who will soon be able to take briefs direct from the public, said that in some cases a member of the public did not need an attorney to brief an advocate.

"In my practice, and in most of the cases, I will be able to attend to everything necessary without the member of the public going to the attorney [just] for the attorney to tell me the same story that the client has told the attorney.

"For the member of the public, having to brief an attorney adds to the cost," Grant said.

He will be one of the first batch of advocates to take briefs from the public when he completes the bookkeeping course.

Grant said he was lucky to be among the first intake of advocates who had taken the course. He said the next intake of advocates would be in March.

The Legal Practice Council was unable to say how many trust account advocates were on its books.

Grant said it was virtually guaranteed that a member of the public who approached a trust account advocate would save on costs.

"I have cases where I am briefed by attorneys. They are charging 150% of fees I would charge for referring the case to me," Grant said.

However, Grant said not all advocates would be able to take the brief direct from the public.

"Those with established practices and who are very busy and are specialists in their  chosen fields and those who get work through a specific set of attorneys are not likely to opt to take briefs direct from members of the public," he said.

The Legal Practice Council replaced the four provincial law societies, which had in the past regulated attorneys.

Presenting the Legal Practice Council last year, justice minister Michael Masutha said advocate associations would also no longer have the responsibility to regulate the advocates' profession.

"They can, however, continue to exist as voluntary associations to advance any non-statutory interests of the profession," Masutha said.