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Georgia State University College of Law




This Article examines the system of educating and licensing attorneys in South Africa to determine whether that country’s experience can provide guidance to jurisdictions in the United States that are considering proposals to reduce or eliminate the importance of bar examinations. The analysis set out here is supplemented by a companion article, providing a first-hand account of the South African system by Ms. Thuli Mhlungu, who was educated and sought admission to the bar during the last years of apartheid and the early years of the new democratic regime.

Examining the situation in South Africa makes particular sense because South Africa is a country whose tortured history parallels the United States’ history in many ways. Further, the South African system (1) has always required some form of practical training prior to admission as an attorney; (2) expanded the way to fulfill the practical training requirement ten years ago to include two alternatives being considered in the United States - community service apprenticeships and practical training courses; and (3) suffers from societal problems similar to those of the United States, including under-representation of people of color within the legal profession and inadequate resources to provide access to justice for indigent persons.

Any analysis of how helpful a consideration of the South African history of bar licensure can be for jurisdictions in the United States initially requires an understanding of the structure of that country’s bar, its system of legal education, the historical method it used for licensing law graduates, and the racial composition of its bar. Part I of this Article sets out this historical framework. After providing that historical information, Part II discusses the post-apartheid changes to bar admissions, the rationale for those changes, and how successful they have been. Part III examines key issues jurisdictions in the United States will face if they try to institute a parallel system. Finally, Part IV offers a suggestion for how U.S. jurisdictions might try to duplicate the successes achieved in South Africa.

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