THE FOUR-YEAR UNDERGRADUATE LLB: WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Keywords:quality of graduates, extended undergraduate LLB degree, return to the old post-graduate LLB degree
Fifteen years have passed since the four-year undergraduate Baccalaureus Legum (“LLB”) degree was first introduced in 1998. This degree was introduced by the Qualification of Legal Practitioners Amendment Act 78 of 1997 “as the minimum academic qualification for admission to practice as an advocate or an attorney … [to] ensure a level of equality between all practising lawyers”. The justification for the introduction of the four-year LLB programme was twofold: First, there were too few black South Africans represented in the legal profession and, secondly, the country’s previous apartheid policy had resulted in a distinction between the law degree that could be obtained by
whites and that which could be obtained by non-whites. To address these problems, Government introduced a single law degree, which was intended in one fell-swoop to remedy both the problem of under-representivity as well as provide equal qualifications for all.
Despite the noble intentions of the democratic Government, the “symbolic gesture which was intended to herald a transformative shift has been a hollow victory”. On the surface, Government succeeded in remedying the problem with which it was faced: the new LLB did produce more black law graduates. However, the quality of graduates entering the legal profession is poor. In fact, the graduates that have been born from this initiative are not worthy of the qualification that they have obtained as many of them are unable to read, write and count at
the level required by the legal profession. (Here it should be emphasized that we are not talking about “plain old reading and writing”, as Boughey puts it, “rather much more specific kinds of literacy.” She adds that “[u]niversities require students to make inferences and draw conclusions from what they read, and to use reading of other texts and their knowledge of the world to question what they are reading”. This in her opinion does not render “reading at university more difficult, rather that reading at university requires the reader to take up a different position in relation to what he/she reads”. This requires a depth which in my opinion students in the undergraduate LLB degree lack because their knowledge of the world is very limited, despite being in possession of a degree which should indicate the contrary. This is problematic because poorly literate candidate attorneys and lawyers may hinder their clients’ access to justice and ultimately reduce people’s faith in the legal system in the long term if lawyers are less able to perform effectively. This is the legacy that has been left by the four-year undergraduate LLB degree. As a result of the repeated “dissatisfaction regarding the quality of law graduates raised by members of the legal profession, Government and academics”, the question that keeps rearing its head is how to address this problem. Two suggestions have been made: the first is for an extended undergraduate LLB degree to remedy the defects of the four-year degree; and the other for a return to the old post-graduate LLB degree. This note considers the four-year degree, in particular its content and pitfalls, as well as the reasons therefore. It also considers recent developments surrounding the law curriculum, the alternatives proposed and whether these are feasible. Lastly, suggestions are made for the way forward.
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