Can you even call it a Salary?

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A CA's Small Salary

Most CA’s are of the view that either their salary is to small or that it is more a wage than a salary.  In some sense they are correct.  I believe it is more of an incentive than anything else.  I have been struggling a while to get to grips with why the salaries of most CA’s are so small.  This lead me to do a massive amount of research and I learned a few valuable lessons that I want to share with you today.

What to expect

The average salary that about most CA’s earn, can be anything between R4 000 – R6 000 per month.  There are roughly 5% that earn between R6 000 – R15 000.  Maybe 1%  of CA’s are lucky enough that can earn above R15 000. 

These are average figures and there are many factors that influence your earning capacity.  Before looking at these factors I want to explain why most CA’s only earn R5 000 a month.

Looking at it wrong

As a CA, we instantly think that because I completed my degree I am eligible to earn a big salary.  What we as CA’s tend to forget is that your 2 year clerkship is an extension of your LLB degree.  Trying to practice law with just your degree is like trying to write a book without a pen.  The reason is that after you get your degree you’ve only learned 50% of what it takes to be a successful attorney.

Lets look at the students to are studying to become doctors.  During their roughly 7 years of study they have practical’s that they complete while studying.  They work 1 week and have classes the next. We as LLB students have to study 4 years and only afterwards do our practical’s.   Your clerkship must therefore be understood as the practical experience of what you learned at University.

We actually have to pay

Seeing as your clerkship is practical experience, we actually have to pay the firms we work for.  Now you must be thinking that I lost my senses? How can I say that?  Well it is easy, in essence what your doing during your clerkship, is learn from a practicing attorney (your principal) how to correctly apply the law.  He or she takes the time and teaches you things that no Varsity can ever do.

Do you take a course and not pay the fees? NO.  Did you study for your LLB and not pay tuition? Just as we paid for your 4 years of study, we must pay the principal for the knowledge we gain during our clerkship.

Fortunately for us that is not how it works.  But changing your view of what clerkship is will help you understand why firms pay CA’s a small salary.

Just as pupils

Anyone that wants to be an advocate has to do his pupillage for a year just like us doing our clerkship.  The pupils don’t earn any salary or cant write any fee for their first year.  They carry all their expenses on their own and are not compensated in any way.  The reason for this is exactly the same as I already said.  They are being taught the practical side of being an advocate.

Taking this into perspective, I felt a lot better about my salary and understood better what it is all about.

The history

I tried researching about CA’s salaries of 10 and 20 years ago, and well, no one ever kept a record of this.  So I turned to the people that were there.  I relied on the information I received from attorneys that are well, dinosaurs.  Most of them informed me that when they started out as article clerks, they did not receive a salary. 

They worked for 2 years doing their articles and well did not make a living from it. These attorneys only started to earn money when they were admitted as attorneys.  They did state that even then, only some firms paid their CA’s a salary and getting into these firms were not easy.


While you were studying, you also did not earn a salary.  Some students did odd jobs here and there to pay for the things they need.  Other students got pocket money from their parents and others got some money from their bursary to buy food, cigs and well whatever you needed or wanted.

The small salary you are earning now, replaced this incentive that you got from somewhere else.  This salary is there to make life a bit easier, it is not there to buy the things you want but only the things you need.


I have come to understand that being a CA is not about being an attorney but becoming one.  We are all still learning how to actually do the work.  The mistakes we make are covered by our principal, he takes the blame or pays for your mistakes (if it goes that far).  

I have accepted that my clerkship is only an extended learning program that all universities offer.  The reality is that we are not ready to earn the big bucks.  We have not yet completed our studies, but our big break is coming.  After 2 years we will be in position to start writing your own fees and making enough money to buy that Merc you’ve been eyeing for 6 years.

The great part of this is that it wont be forever.  You wont earn a small wage for the rest of your career.  It will get better and this too shall pass.

I hope that this has helped understand the reasons behind the salaries and that it helps to motivate you to get through it.

Leave your comments, views or suggestions in the comments below.

Photo by Nichole Warman from FreeImages

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