Articles of clerkship refer to a training contract between lawyers and graduating law students, usually involving a two-year commitment. Some countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Africa, require articles of clerkship before permitting graduates to practice law. Articled clerks usually gain experience in civil and criminal law by rotating among attorneys, often called solicitors, inside or outside the firm. Some regions no longer use the term, but simply refer to them as training contracts. The contracts typically must be registered with an agency that oversees the legal profession.
In South Africa, articles of clerkship require registration with the law society in the region where the contract is signed. The sponsoring solicitor assures the agency that the clerk meets all educational requirements to qualify for training. A law school graduate must also provide information needed to register the articles of clerkship.
Character references might be required to show the student is morally and emotionally qualified to become an attorney. The law society might also require proof of age and completion of law school. The application form for registration of articles of clerkship must be signed by the student and practicing attorney, and received by the regulating agency before any training begins.
Mentoring represents an important part of the clerkship, with periodic performance evaluations to assess progress. An articled clerk typically rotates every few months to learn a different facet of law, called a seat. Working with a new mentor for each seat might give a clerk valuable experience practicing different types of law.
Areas of training typically include drafting legal documents and taking dispositions from witnesses. Civil law experience might involve land disputes and commercial litigation over copyright issues. The clerk usually performs legal research in civil and criminal matters, and typically writes briefs and indictments. He or she might also work closely with victims of crime in criminal cases.
Other duties performed by clerks include participating in meetings with judges in chambers. They might also research prior court cases when assisting with appeals. Opportunities to examine or cross-examine witnesses during trial generally vary by law firm.
Some law offices provide opportunities for clerks to attend seminars or training courses during the clerkship. Articled clerks might also spend time learning the legislative process and assist in drafting bills. Permanent jobs after training are not guaranteed, but a high percentage of students who participate in articles of clerkship stay with the firms where they trained.