Curriculum Transformation Drive: A New LLB in 2024 and into the Future

Posted on April 26, 2023

On 12 April 2023, the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Law (UP Law) hosted a hybrid workshop for alumni, law firms, and the Legal Practice Council as part of the Curriculum Transformation Drive. Curriculum transformation is defined as "a paradigm shift in which the university moves away from the single-story syndrome of the traditionally Western university and toward an institute that honours and reflects multiculturalism while also being inclusive and dynamic in a diverse society." The purpose of this event was to get input from legal professionals on the calibre of law graduates produced by UP Law in line with the recommendations made by the CHE during the 2016/2017 LLB review, which underlined the importance of external stakeholders’ opinions in designing a new, reformed, inclusive, and transformed LLB curriculum.

In opening, Professor Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law, welcomed all attendees and underlined the importance of this engagement and the faculty’s intention to collaborate with the larger legal fraternity and integrate their opinions in the construction of a redesigned LLB curriculum.

 Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law, stressed that this session provides the faculty with significant insights into the challenges that external stakeholders have encountered with law graduates. In this context, the legal practitioners were requested to take part in a questionnaire designed to assess law graduates' performance in the workplace.

 In response to the question of whether law graduates performed in accordance with law firms’ expectations and whether they possessed the necessary skills for a candidate attorney, multiple law firms expressed the view that students from various universities across South Africa need to improve their basic research skills, drafting skills, written and oral communication skills, computer literacy skills, comprehension skills, critical thinking skills, problem solving and analytical skills. In particular, this issue applies to students who did not take Practical Law as an elective or participate in moot competitions during their studies. The shared view is that students who enrolled for Practical Law and those who were involved in moots fair better than those who did not. These skills are essential for candidate attorneys’ success in the profession, therefore, it is crucial that students are equipped with these skills when they enter practice. A further emphasis made by the firms is that students should participate in extra-curricular activities in order to enhance their time management skills, among other things, because well-rounded students are a top pick for firms.

 In addition, the legal practitioners pointed out that there is a massive gap between theory and practice. Graduates are unskilled in marrying theory and practice; thus, they struggle with application of theory to practical legal matters. Moreover, the practitioners stressed the importance of the Civil Procedure module. The Civil Procedure module offers the formal rules and standards that courts follow in South Africa when adjudicating civil suits. A legal professional ought to know and understand the core elements of this module. The practitioners further emphasized the importance of understanding the court system, which is covered in the Civil Procedure module. Civil Procedure is currently only offered in the fourth-year of the LLB programme, which is not very helpful as students do not learn drafting until they are in their final year and take the module. As a result, the firms suggested that Civil Procedure be included in the early phases of the LLB degree.

In light of the above, a number of suggestions were made, including collaboration between the faculty and law firms, bars, and alumni to teach students about the practical side of the law, legal research skills, and the use of electronic resources. Practitioners volunteered to give guest lectures on various modules which affirms their commitment to the faculty and students.  Further suggestions included making Practical Law a compulsory module for all students; and focusing more on the practical side of law rather than just theory. A balance between theory and practice was emphasised on the day.

Both the Dean and Deputy Dean were very receptive and appreciated the feedback they received from the practitioners. The Dean highlighted the faculty’s initiative to offer Practical Law as a compulsory module instead of an elective. Practical Law has proven to be beneficial to graduates in enhancing their drafting and legal research skills. The Deputy Dean supported the practitioners’ observation that graduates should leave university as well-rounded graduates. To give effect to this, UP Law offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities and leadership opportunities for students to develop into well-rounded graduates. This includes societies and structures such as Law House, Legal Shebeen, TULIP, Students for Law and Social Justice, Women in Law, Constitutional Tribunal and the Student Disciplinary Advisory Panel.  As a means to further enhance graduates’ skills and offer them an opportunity to gain practical work experience, the Faculty of Law in collaboration with the office of the DVC Academic established the legal internship programme in 2021, which has recorded success for the students who participate in this endeavour.

In closing, the Dean extended gratitude to everyone who attended the workshop and expressed the faculty's commitment to partner with and involve external stakeholders in future curriculum transformation workshops.

- Author Seipati Lepele and Tshilidzi Mahumela

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