The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) is planning to host a summit in the first half of 2013 that will focus on the concerns around the standard of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in South Africa. This follows concerns by a broad spectrum of legal practitioners in the country on the skills acquired by students during their study.
“The main concern around this topic is that . . . changing the LLB degree to a four-year under- graduate Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree might be a problem as it affects the quality of legal practitioners that we aim to have.
“We would like to look at issues around how we can develop a degree that will holistically encompass generic skills that are required to produce a high standard of legal practitioner in the country,” states LSSA CEO Nic Swart.
South African universities currently offer different formats of the LLB degree or a law qualification; this might also prove to be a challenge and has led the LSSA to plan a summit that will intensely discuss the issues surrounding legal studies.
This comes after the publishing of the Legal Practice Bill in July. Both the LSSA and the General Council of the Bar of South Africa (GCB) committed themselves to participating in the Parliamentary process set up by the Justice Portfolio Committee, as well as the consultative process to be set up by the Justice Department preceding the Transitional Council envisaged in the Bill.
“We believe that there have been a few problems within the legal sector that have to be addressed and, also, there are going to be new dispensations with the Legal Practice Bill, which will lead to new rules being written about law qualifications and what they entail,” says Swart.
“Looking at the different structures of legal studies offered in different institutions, we have realised that there are points of concern in terms of what is inclusive and exclusive in all forms of legal studies in the country. This is why we want to invite a very broad spectrum of stakeholders within the legal sector to this summit,” he explains.
Grahamstown-based Rhodes University offers the LLB degree as a four-year under- graduate programme, a two-year postgraduate programme, and a three-year postgraduate programme.
Students who enter Rhodes for the first time would ideally register for a general degree in any faculty but taking both non-law courses and two law courses. It is suggested that when the student reach the second year, the student chooses whether to continue to pursue a career in law or change the study direction.
Generally, students will register for a BA, a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree, which all take three years, after which students register for the penulti-mate year (fourth year), which is focused on law, and progresses to the fifth/final year.
At the University of Johannes-burg, law is offered in three forms at undergraduate level. It is offered as a BA (Law), a BCom (Law) or an LLB degree.
The BA (Law) degree allows the student to acquire knowledge of the South African legal system, private law, constitutional law and customary law. Besides this, the student is able to take courses in aspects of the arts and social sciences, which allows the student to be exposed to languages and language struc-tures.
The BCom (Law) degree allows the student to acquire knowledge of South African business enterprises law, labour law and customary law. Besides this, the student will be able to take courses in aspects of economics and management sciences.
The LLB degree aims to equip the student with reflective understanding of the law to enable the student to apply the law in the competent provision of legal services to the community.
The LSSA and the GCB point out that their engagement with the Legal Practice Bill is premised on the fact that the legal profession serves the public and the community. An independent legal board is essential for the protection of the rule of law and the promotion of the country’s constitutional democracy.
“For these reasons, we believe stakeholders at the summit will range from representatives from different universities, practising attorneys, law graduates, para-legals, government represent-atives and other people who may be of assistance in providing solutions on how to provide law qualifications [of a high standard] in South Africa.”
Swart believes that the outcome of the summit will allow the LSSA to submit public comment to the Justice Portfolio Committee that will look at the quality of law degrees and the right of the profession to determine the requirements for admission.
The inclusion of community service in the law qualification is one aspect that the LSSA hopes to discuss at the summit. How the summit will be run, as well as funding, is an issue of concern that will be addressed with the various stakeholders.
“As the LSSA, we agree that community service must form part of the qualification, but the challenge is how it will be incorporated into the degree and at which stage of the degree it will be initiated. Also, we have to clarify what forms part of community service and what doesn’t.”
Swart admits that the LSSA harbours several concerns about the introduction of community service for law students. He highlights, among others, the focus of the service, whether it will adequately prepare students for legal practice, and training. He also questions how com- munity service will be defined in order to structure it correctly.
The LSSA reiterates the responsibility that legal studies have in maintaining justice in the country. The society points out that its relationship with government is also crucial to the maintenance of a fair justice system, which is one of the driving forces to pursuing a law qualification of a high standard in the country, Swart concludes.