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The undergraduate law curriculum : fitness for purpose?

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This study reviews the curriculum of the four-year undergraduate Baccalaureus Legum (LLB) degree, introduced in 1998 as part of the transformation agenda in post-apartheid South Africa. Ten years since its inception, the question is whether the vision of the originators has translated into curricula that are producing a representative supply of appropriately-educated graduates for practice as legal professionals. The demand for the transformation of legal education resulted in the introduction of an undergraduate LLB as a single, affordable qualification for entry to legal practice. Law faculties were permitted to develop their own curricula, although there was agreement on core content. Three key principles were to inform curriculum design: (i) South African law exists in and applies to a diverse or pluralistic society; (ii) skills appropriate to the practice of law must be integrated into the degree; and (iii) faculties must strive to inculcate ethical values in students. A decade later, stakeholders are expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of graduates. Few graduates complete the LLB within four years, and a significant proportion of African students, already under-represented in law faculties, do not complete their studies. The attorneys’ profession is still predominantly white-owned. In the first part of the study, phenomenological interviews were conducted with three members of the 1996 Task Group of Law Deans who drafted the proposals for the new degree. The data elicited described the lived experience of curriculum change. Five current Law Deans were also interviewed to develop an understanding of their experience of implementing the law curriculum. The second component of the study was a phenomenographic analysis, in which six graduates, who are now attorneys, were interviewed, to identify their experiences of the law curriculum at one Law faculty. The graduates’ employers were interviewed to ascertain their perceptions of the graduates’ preparedness for professional practice. The study suggests that reactive conservatism on the part of legal academics resulted in law curricula that replicate a cycle of disadvantage, and fail to achieve transformative learning which integrates knowledge, skills and ethical values. A focus on incorporating an ontological component in law curricula, to develop high quality legal professionals is recommended.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2009.