Completing a bachelor of laws (LLB) is only the first of several lengthy, expensive steps towards qualifying as a lawyer.
THE WITS SCHOOL of Law remains uncertain on whether it will offer the four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree in 2019, but the school is already advertising the study stream on its study page on the university’s website.
In 2014, Wits discontinued the straight four-year LLB programme and returned to the traditional two or three-year programme, where students choose to either complete an undergraduate BA (Law) or a BCom (Law) or after completing any other first degree, could embark on an LLB.
Earlier this year, the Council of Higher Education (CHE) released a national review of how to standardise and strengthen the quality of legal education and the LLB degree.
Until the final report is released, the CHE is recommending all universities also to offer the straight four-year LLB programme.
Admissions and career development officer Wanda Ndlozi said, “There is a possibility we will be accepting students for the four-year LLB (in 2019), we are waiting for the final feedback from the CHE report at the end of October. “The two or three-year LLB stream makes you more marketable to employers.”
Dean of Commerce, Law and Management, Professor Imraan Valodia said, “We will see what the CHE says but we still believe that the two or three-year postgraduate programme is
the best. We are going to engage the CHE. We wouldn’t have made the decision to remove the straight LLB on a whim. The four-year LLB training provides a narrow set of skills for the kind of lawyers we need in South Africa.
“All firms employing law students say that they’d rather employ students with a broad set of skills and [who have] done the longer programmes. It’s better in the long-term for one’s career as a lawyer and professional training,” said Valodia.
Law School Council (LSC) chairperson, Mpendulo Mfeka, said, “The LSC would welcome the return of the straight four-year LLB degree. Not everyone has enough money to study an LLB for five or six years doing two degrees. [Also] not everyone qualifies for NSFAS, so those who don’t qualify for NSFAS but want to become lawyers are disadvantaged.”
“[However], we see the need for the BA and BCom Law and want them to remain. Someone who has studied a BA or BCom Law is not the same as someone who studied a straight LLB because their thinking isn’t confined within the law doctrines only,” said Mfeka.
Second-year BA Law student, Reshoketswe Masitenyane, said that she initially wanted to study the four-year LLB stream. However, the BA Law route has broadened her legal training.
“The BA degree complements law pretty well. In addition to the law courses [I do] international relations and politics. You have to do a lot of research and write really long essays, essentially [I’m] walking away with a better grasp of the world and improved writing skills. Now I see the importance of the [BA] undergrad. Choosing the BA was a better alternative for me,” said Masitenyane.
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2017: ‘Students should be happy about LLB national review’
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2014: Wits axes undergrad LLB degree
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2014: Rhodes, Tukkies react to Wits scrapping of LLB degree
Law students have mixed reactions to an announcement that they will no longer be able to write supplementary exams, provided that they are in their final year.
The thought of repeating a year if you fail an exam has left some Law students worried about the length of their degree.
Sanele Maluleke, 4th year LLB, said: “I don’t think it’s fair because the degree itself is hard to attain. In first year you get students who’d get 48% and 49% and need the supp to qualify for the next year. So this has an impact on the duration of when you finish your degree. I mean supps are what actually saves most students because not every student can be an A student”.
In May, an e-mail was sent to all students at the School of Law announcing that “from 2014, after the June exams, going forward the School of Law will only award supplementary exams to final year students in the LLB degree”.
Final year students will be allowed to write a supplementary examination in one course they have failed with a mark of 40%- 49%. If a student fails more than one course, he/she will have to repeat that course the following year.
First to third year students who achieve less than 50% will have to repeat the course the following year.
Zinzile Ndziba, 4th year LLB, complained that the decision “was just thrown at everyone”.
“There was no substantiating [it], it’s just something people have to accept,” Ndziba said.
“It’s not fair,” said 3rd year LLB student Anastasia Thomaids. “Supplementary exams give you pretty much a second chance when you get into an exam and fail it. Not getting that supplementary exam means that you not only don’t get a second chance to write the exam but it means that you have to repeat the course the next year and have to pay extra.”
Quality over quantity?
Other students, however, endorsed the decision based on quality over quantity.
“[I’m] Totally okay with it. That’s why we are at this institution, we’re number one now so I’m cool with it. To meet standards,” said Moswaredi Matabane, 3rd year LLB.
In the same breath, 3rd year LLB student Lis Ndlovu said: “I do think that in the long run it will produce a better quality of students. Essentially, you will work harder instead of working towards getting that 47% or 49% in the hopes of a supplementary exam. It may seem unfair but I understand the benefit that it has for the Law School and the calibre of students that the Law School sends out into the world.”
While the quality over quantity debate seems attractive to some students, Maluleke begs to differ. “I know that there’s a thing for keeping up the standard but I don’t think that it should be at the expense of the students that are in the very university that is putting them on the map,” said Maluleke
Deputy head of school, Prof. Mtende Mhango, said the decision was based on research and recommendations made by the faculty.
Assistant Dean of Commerce, Law and Management, Linda Spark is the main person behind the research conducted for the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee.
“I have presented it [research] to SET who sent it back to faculties and is still being considered. This research is part of a university wide investigation into supps and is still work in progress”, said Spark
Law Student Council (LSC) academic officer Mfundo Mdluli said: “We are engaged with talks with management. We are waiting for feedback which we are expecting by the end of the week.” Asked what kind of talks the LSC is having with management, Mdluli said he’d rather “wait until all is done and there is progress” before he discloses what the LSC is doing regarding the outcry.
The recent decision by Wits University to end the undergraduate LLB degree from 2015 has been met with mixed reactions. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to current law students on campus to hear what they have to say about the move.
Wits Vuvuzela: Rhodes, Tukkies react to scrapping of LLB degree, April 2014.
Wits Vuvuzela: Current students will not be affected by canning of LLB degree, April 2014.
Wits Vuvuzela: Wits axes undergrad LLB degree, April 2014.