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Concern at law degree standards

University deans of law are set to meet members of the South African legal fraternity to discuss whether LLB education in the country is indeed in crisis.

Just 20 percent of students who enrol for a Bachelor of Laws degree graduate within four years, while the rest take up to six years to do so, according to the SA Law Deans Association, the Law Society of SA and the General Council of the Bar.

Since as far back as 2007, there have been calls from academics and the judiciary for the reintroduction of a five-year LLB, owing to widespread concern that many graduates of the shorter, four-year LLB were out of their depth.

Last year, Judge Achmat Jappie, at the time KwaZulu-Natal deputy judge president, told The Mercury it was “optimistic” to believe matriculants, already ill-prepared for university, could be sufficiently equipped to enter the legal profession within four years.

The four-year LLB was introduced in 1998 to reduce study costs and increase the number of black law graduates. The consequences were that modules which developed skills such as reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking were chopped from the curriculum.

This week, in a joint press statement, the three law bodies announced that they would hold a summit on the issue in May.

Professor Vivienne Lawack, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s dean of law, and president of the Law Deans’ Association, pointed out that law faculties of historically under-resourced universities needed a substantial boost in resources to improve the quality of legal education.

The co-chairmen of the law society, Jan Stemmett and Krish Govender, said they welcomed the willingness of the law deans to enter into discussions on the merits of making changes to the four-year LLB, as they had for some time believed that these graduates seldom had the attributes needed to take full advantage of the vocational training provided by the profession.

“This results in a significantly weakened profession,” they said.

In the statement the law bodies argued that the shorter LLB has not increased access to the profession by disadvantaged students, and that instead, those from privileged backgrounds chose to do the LLB as a second degree.

The value of these students’ first degree, in developing literacy and numeracy skills, made them more attractive to prospective employers.

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