Legal writing skills in the South African LL.B (law degree): to integrate or not
Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow
Elizabeth Snyman-Van Deventer
University of the Free State
Legal writing as a subject has been largely absent from the South African under graduate LL.B curriculum, despite the fact that every legal practitioner needs to be able to perform legal writing in some or other form. Literature on current trends in international schools of law reveals that a full-fledged course in legal writing is, as a standard procedure, included in the undergraduate degree programmes. Some South African law faculties have slowly started to include legal writing in separate modules within the LL.B curriculum, while others are including aspects of legal writing in doctrinal modules. It has become apparent that – apart from ‘practical skills’ modules – traditional doctrinal or theory subjects can play a crucial role in achieving the ideals of teaching effective legal writing skills in a holistic manner. The debate on how this may be achieved is however noticeably absent from the academic discourse on the general restructuring and transformation of the LLB curriculum. This failure to have a proper discourse on how to inculcate many important legal skills through subjects that have traditionally conveyed theory of law alone means that valuable opportunities to broaden the skills base of the country’s law students are lost. South African undergraduate law students most often are taught in their second or third language and this must also be taken into account in the development of a legal writing module. With reference to the steps taken by the University of the Free State Faculty of Law to address the teaching vacuum in respect of legal writing, this paper explains the ‘staggered’ introduction of components of legal writing into the LL.B curriculum. It is clear that the introduction of legal writing as an integral part of the LL.B curriculum has become imperative. The question is whether to introduce legal writing as a separate module, integrated in the doctrinal modules or a combination of the two models. In my view the answer is a combination of the two, namely a stand-alone module on legal writing and including it in as many doctrinal modules as possible. Legal writing must be taught in a holistic manner and it is thus necessary that a separate module (subject) dealing with various types of legal writing form part of the LL.B curriculum while appropriate legal writing exercises or assignments are included in doctrinal modules. This dual approach will ensure that not only legal writing skills be developed, but also the ability to apply legal principles and to develop critical analytical skills. Legal writing cannot be seen in isolation, but as an integral part of the undergraduate law degree.