How to get free legal aid in South Africa

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Free legal aid in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other SA cities

Often it is very expensive to hire attorneys and many people are not able to pay. At LAWGATE we receive a lot of requests for free legal aid from South African clients, therefore in this article we tell you how to get free legal services in South Africa.

There are various ways to get legal services free of charge in SA, here is our overview.

Pro Bono Legal Services

Pro bono means “for the good of the public”: this type of legal services are given for free to people that cannot afford to pay.

Attorneys offer “pro bono” services to help the community, for charity or humanitarian reasons. In some countries the law mandates pro bono work (South Korea), in other countries he bar association recommends it (USA).

To qualify for pro bono assistance, you must have a very low income or no income at all, and your legal problem must have a merit. Attorneys or associations offering pro bono normally perform a “means test”, to check that your income is low enough to qualify.

Some attorney members of the Legal Practice council of South Africa offer pro bono services. Here you can find a list:

Also these two organizations provide pro bono legal services in South Africa:

Furthermore, also some of the attorneys at LAWGATE might be willing to offer pro bono legal aid. You can sign up for free at LAWGATE and contact them to check wether they do pro bono.

Legal Aid South Africa

The section 35 of the South African Constitution states that every person who is arrested, detained or accused has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to have a legal practitioner assigned by the State and at State expense.

Legal Aid South Africa derives its mandate from this section of the Constitution.

Their role is to provide legal representation to people who cannot afford it, especially poor people, women and children. Legal aid will check (perform a “means test”) if you qualify in terms of your income. For instance, if you are employed you must learn less then Rand 7400 after tax.

Check the website of Legal Aid to learn more and see if you meet their conditions at

Law Clinics

Law Clinics are legal aid or law school programs that provide legal services to clients and experience to law students. Legal clinics usually do pro bono work in a particular area, thus giving free legal services to people in need.

You can find a list of Law Clinics in SA on the website of at

Legal Insurance

This method is not really free of charge, since you must pay a monthly or yearly fee to a legal insurance company, however the cost of the insurance is way smaller than the cost of an attorney. A legal insurance makes sense especially if you foresee to have multiple or recurring legal issues, for instance if you own a small business.

If you want more information about the legal insurances try to google “legal insurance South Africa” and you will find different insurance companies, with various prices and services offered.

Contingency Fee

Often attorneys undertake civil litigation (like personal injury and traffic accident claims) on a contingency (no-win-no-fee) basis for people who have an income that is too high to qualify for pro bono assistance. If you lose in court you will not pay any fee. If you win in court, the attorney will take a contingency fee from what the defendant will pay you.

In South Africa the Contingency Fees Act regulates this system.

You can ask to any attorney if they work on contingency fee, including those here at LAWGATE. Sign up for free here and send a description of your case to our lawyers, to see if they will take your case for a contingency fee.

Interested in African legal issues? Check out our interview with the Nigerian lawyer Oghale Enuku here.

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