The 9 Best Law Schools in South Africa

Studying law in South Africa

A law degree is the first step into one of the oldest and most prestigious professions in the world. South Africa has several accredited law schools that offer a gateway into this exciting career.

In total, South Africa has 17 law schools, several of which are rated amongst the best universities in Africa and even in the world. These include both public and private universities.

Some of the top-rated schools like the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University have been in existence for long now and have built legacies that give them an edge over their relatively new counterparts.

Read on to find out what it takes to become a lawyer, and to see the 9 best universities to study law in South Africa as ranked by the QS World University Rankings.

How do you become a lawyer in SA?

The first step to becoming a lawyer is to obtain a law degree at an institution registered and accredited to offer law degree programs. The minimum academic requirement to enter the legal profession as an advocate or attorney in South Africa is an LLB degree.

Upon completion of an LLB, if one decides to take the attorney’s route, they should take up a position as a candidate attorney at a law firm. Following this, one should join a Law Society and undertake articles of clerkship before writing an admission examination for attorneys. 

Alternatively, one can choose the advocate’s profession, register with the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, and then undertake a one-year pupilage before writing the Bar Examination.

Thereafter, one can then be admitted as an advocate. LLB graduates can also do postgraduate studies in a chosen area of specialization within any of the different law fields. These can be a postgraduate diploma or a master’s (LLM) or doctorate (LLD) degree.

What bachelor do you need to do at University?

As mentioned earlier, a four-year Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) is the minimum academic requirement to enter the legal profession as an advocate or attorney in South Africa. Universities also offer three-year BA Law and BCom Law degrees as alternatives.

These are humanities and commercial degrees with a focus on law subjects. With these degrees, one would then need to proceed with an LLB for a further two years, eventually graduating with two degrees in five years. 

What are the requirements for studying law at a university?

To be eligible to study law at a university, applicants should meet the minimum admission requirements for a degree program – the South African National Senior Certificate (NSC) or an equivalent qualification with a matriculation endorsement or a matriculation exemption. Matriculants with NSC should have at least four subjects with at least a level 4 (50-59%) pass rating.

Applicants should also demonstrate that they attained the minimum level of proficiency in English (40% or better for South African Senior Certificate applicants and a level 2 achievement (20–40 %) for NSC applicants.

It should be noted that these are the minimum requirements for eligibility for admission to undergraduate studies. Each university sets its own minimum requirements for admission to its law degree program, and applicants should consult with the relevant faculties.

Where can you study law in SA?

Most public universities offer law degrees and bachelors. They Universities offering Law studies are listed below:

  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Venda
  • University of the Witwatersrand
  • University of Johannesburg
  • University of Pretoria
  • Stellenbosch University
  • Rhodes University
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • North West University
  • University of the Free State
  • University of the Western Cape
  • University of Fort Hare
  • University of Limpopo
  • Nelson Mandela University
  • IIE Varsity College
  • University of Zululand

What are the best law schools in SA?

University of Cape Town (UCT)

On top of the list is UCT, South Africa’s oldest and top-rated university. Established in 1829, UCT is located in the scenic city of Cape Town. One of the campuses sits on the slope of the famous Devil’s peak, boasting of beautiful views of the city.

QS World Rankings ranks UCT as the top university to study law in South Africa. The university is recognized for producing law graduates that are highly sought after both locally and internationally. 

The UCT Law Faculty accommodates roughly 1000 students, meaning there is stiff competition for the limited spaces. Matriculants are offered an LLB degree, for which the minimum admission requirements is an APS of 36, although one requires more than 44 APS points for probable admission.

Alternatively, one can apply for BA Law or BCom Law degrees through the faculties of humanities and commerce, respectively. The BCom Law and BA Law stream should meet the minimum admission requirements of their respective faculties, and then successfully pass all their first year subjects in one sitting with a minimum average of 65% for BA Law and 63% for BCom Law to be allowed into the law program.

After meeting these requirements, one is then admitted to the LLB program. 

University of Witwatersrand

University of Witwatersrand is rated the second-best university to study law in South Africa. Also one of the prestigious institutions in the country, the University of Witwatersrand has produced four Nobel Prize Winners that include former President, Nelson Mandela.

The university has five campuses in the vibrant cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Braamfontein and Parktown in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa and capital of the Gauteng province.

Competition for places is tough, with minimum entry requirements for a law degree starting at 43 APS points with level 5 English Language and level 3 Mathematics or level 4 Mathematical Literacy. 

University of Pretoria (UP)

Founded in 1908 in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, the University of Pretoria is one of the oldest and largest South African Universities. The law faculty offers a four-year LLB degree, for which a minimum APS of 32 and a level 5 for English is required for admission.

The faculties of commerce and humanities also offer BCom Law (minimum 32 APS points with English and Mathematics Level 5) and BA Law degrees (minimum 30 APS points with English Level 5), which then give admittance to an LLB degree.

Stellenbosch University   

The Western Cape based university has been in existence for over 100 years. Stellenbosch University has the largest law library in the country and some of the prominent law academics in the country.

Admission for a law degree requires National Senior Certificate (NSC) with an at least 50% in each of the four school subjects. 

University of Johannesburg

Born in 2005, the institution has since put up an impressive academic performance to gain global recognition within a short period of time.

The law faculty offers an LLB degree for which the minimum requirement for admission is 28 APS points with Mathematics or 29 APS points with Mathematical Literacy, level 5 for English.

The same are required for a BA Law degree. For BCom Law, an applicant is required to have English level 5 or better, 29 APS points with Mathematics Literacy, or 28 APS points with Level 4 Mathematics. 

University of KwaZulu-Natal 

This is yet another young university formed from the 2004 merger between the University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal.

UKZN is well known for its academic excellence in the fields of health sciences and law, making it a good choice for studying law. The institution has five campuses across Durban, Pietermaritzburg, and Pinetown.

The law programs are offered at the Durban and Pietermaritzburg campuses, giving students the opportunity of studying in either or both cities.

The minimum admission requirements are 32 APS points excluding Life Orientation, with level 5 English Home Language or Level 6 English First Additional Language, level 5 Mathematical Literacy or level 3 Mathematics, and level 4 Life Orientation.

Rhodes University

Located in the Eastern Cape Province, this is another great university to study law. It sits at position 7 in South Africa according to QS World Rankings by subject. This university has one of the best undergraduate and graduation rates.

The institution is also known for its diverse student population, accommodating international students from various African nations. A minimum of Mathematics level 4 or Mathematical Literacy level 5 is required for one to be considered for law studies. However, first year candidates are not accepted directly into law.

They are first required to obtain 3 non-Law credits through the Humanities, Commerce or Science route.

University of the Western Cape

Also located in Cape Town and established in 1904, making it one of the oldest South African universities.

The institution will be remembered in the history books for its efforts to help eradicate racial discrimination and preserving human rights and constitutionalism.

The minimum entry requirements are a 37 APS with level 4 English, an additional language with level 3, and level 4 Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy. 

University of the Free State

QS World Rankings ranks the University of the Free State as rated the 9th best to study law in South Africa. Located in Bloemfontein, the judicial capital of South Africa, the university is home to more than 31000 students.

To be admitted to the four-year LLB degree, a candidate should have an APS of 33 points, with a minimum of level 6 in Afrikaans and English, and a minimum of level 6 in Mathematical Literacy or level 4 Mathematics. 

What are the best law schools in the world?

One may also consider other universities outside of South Africa.

The top international universities are often better recognized, well-resourced and more prestigious. The following are the best 3 Law Schools in the world. 

Harvard University

Located in the United States and founded in 1817, Harvard Law School is the oldest law school in the United States.

HLS is one of the most prestigious in the world, producing graduates that are highly sought after in the world.

HLS graduates are well known as distinguished leaders in the judiciary, governments and private companies in many countries.

University of Oxford

Located in the United Kingdom and having a history of over 800 years in the teaching of law, the University of Oxford offers the largest law doctoral program in the world.

Oxford’s law school is currently ranked first in the world in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings although it is ranked number two according to QS World Rankings. 

University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge is located in the United Kingdom as well.

The law faculty is one of the world’s oldest and finest law schools, renowned for the quality of teaching and cutting-edge legal research, particularly in international law

What are the best law firms in SA?

A law degree opens up a lucrative and well-respected career in South Africa.

After completing the relatively challenging and interesting journey at law school, prominent lawyers can expect to work at one of these top five law firms:

Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr

Situated in Johannesburg and Cape Town and is considered one of the top five law firms in South Africa. The firm has over 165 years of experience and offered collaborative legal services.

They do not only cover most fields of law, but they have also been the winners of M and A Deal Flow Awards for decade in a row. 

Bowmans Law

Located in Cape Town, with a track record that spans more than 100 years. They have provided expert service and legal advice and awarded African Law Firm in 2018 by the African Legal Awards.

They have six offices in four African countries and employ over 400 specialized lawyers. 

Norton Rose Fulbright

With offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, the firm is an international law firm headquartered in the UK.

They employ more than 4000 lawyers and legal staff in more than 50 cities all over the world. The firm was also placed 11th in the American Lawyers 2019 Am Law 200 ranking.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs South Africa (ENSafrica)

A pan-African law firm, ENSafrica has 200 years of experience and more than 620 practitioners under its wing.

It offers legal services all over Sub-Saharan Africa and cover fields of law from legal and tax services. They have 12 offices spread out across seven African countries.  

Webber Wentzel

Based in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Webber Wentzel has over 150 years of experience in the legal industry and are home to some of the longest standing and dedicated pro-bono practitioners in South Africa.

The firm boasts of top-class service transformation initiatives to bolster diversity and inclusivity in their organization. 

What type of lawyers are in demand in SA?

Corporate lawyers are on high demand in South Africa due high business activity that prevails in the country. Criminal lawyers and labor lawyers are also highly sought after. 

How much do lawyers earn in SA?

According to Business Tech, lawyers earn according to experience. Junior candidate lawyers earn between R250 000 and R350 000 per year.

Associate lawyers can earn up to R700 000 while Senior Associates can earn up to R1 200 000 per year. On the high end, a senior partner and a legal secretary may earn up to R5 000 000. 

Is law school really hard?

The subject of how hard law school is, is a subjective one, depending on the abilities of an individual and how well one is suited to it. It is however an interesting challenge that requires effort to take on a heavy workload often under a lot of pressure.

Sources Used For This Article