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Wits axes undergrad LLB degree

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Staff Reporter
April16/ 2014

UPDATE: Read our interview with the Head of the School of Law, Prof Vinodh Jaichand, where he says that current students will not be affected by the scrapping of the LLB.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

Wits University has endorsed a decision of the Wits School of Law to only offer the LLB degree at postgraduate level from 2015. The decision means that the four-year LLB degree will no longer be offered.

See the full statement below:

“WITS SCHOOL OF LAW TO DISCONTINUE THE UNDERGRADUATE LLB DEGREE IN 2015

The University of the Witwatersrand has approved the plan of the School of Law to discontinue the undergraduate Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) and to introduce the LLB postgraduate programme.

Following extensive discussions with members of the profession and academic colleagues, the Wits School of Law has decided to discontinue the undergraduate four-year LLB at the end of 2014. From 2015 all students with an interest in law will have to enrol in the postgraduate LLB programme which may take an additional two years for those who have completed the BA Laws or BCom Law. This is informed by the following reasons:

  • Response from the legal profession: In meetings with law firms and members of the Bar, one assessment was uniformly received –  the four-year undergraduate LLB does not adequately prepare students for the legal profession. This was further confirmed at the Society of Law Teachers of Southern Africa Conference held at the Wits School of Law in January 2014. Many point to the lack of maturity or awareness of the graduates to be given stewardship of clients’ affairs. Some firms of attorneys, who regularly recruit our graduates, employ them on the proviso that they complete additional academic qualifications, like such as the Bachelor of Laws Master degree. The proposed postgraduate LLB degree will enhance opportunities for the Wits School of Law graduates.
  • Completion rate: Our statistics point to the fact that only 30% (higher than the national average of 25%) of students enrolled in the School of Law complete the undergraduate degree in four years. Therefore a significant number take five or more years to complete the degree while a proportion is excluded for failing too many courses. Consequently, the throughput of law graduates is reduced. The proposed postgraduate LLB will ensure that at least one degree is obtained at the university level as students will only be admitted to the School of Law if they are in possession of a prior degree.
  • Entering the legal profession: It is estimated that about 50% of law graduates do enter the legal profession, if they are successful in securing a position as a candidate attorney. Some are compelled by financial hardship to go to the Bar immediately after graduation and find the learning curve to be too steep. Others enter allied areas such as civil society, international organisations, corporations and academe, to mention a few. The proposed postgraduate LLB degree will enhance opportunities for the Wits School of Law graduates.

 

“The rationale for the strategy is that a prior degree would already have prepared a prospective law student on the expectations of university education with some level of literacy, numeracy and exposure to the wider issues in South Africa and beyond, that are material in their understanding of law,” expands Professor Vinodh Jaichand, Head of the Wits School of Law.

This would mitigate the risk of exclusions from the study of law with the exposure to new areas of study.

“In addition there are many incomplete discussions on the future of the undergraduate LLB and the reform of legal education. It will be some time before reform takes place,” continues Jaichand.

“In the meanwhile, Wits cannot be a bystander to the challenges faced by law graduates, the legal profession and society,” he says.

The proposed postgraduate LLB will include additional courses in ethics legal research and writing course.

“A course in ethics will assist future lawyers to make the right decision in morally complex issues. While every lawyer is trained in the same way, issues of ethics have been assumed. Indeed, this is an issue of governance in our country today.”

The subject of ethics has also been identified by the Law Society of South Africa as a much needed subject in the law school curriculum.

“Furthermore, our discussions with the profession have identified the need for stronger research and writing skills. The postgraduate LLB will cater for this deficit,” explains Jaichand.

For queries contact Professor Vinodh Jaichand, Head of the Wits School of Law, on 073 959 2690 or email Vinodh.Jaichand@wits.ac.za

 

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Staff Reporter