“Formal education in the law does not prepare lawyers for the moral challenges of the profession”

There is so much that South African Universities can learn from developments in the US and UK where law schools have been around so much longer. Yes, South Africa is different in some respects and it’s a unique legal system in a country that is partly third world and we shouldn’t just follow Eurocentric models yaddah yaddah…but it also makes no sense to re-invent the wheel. The SA legal system is based on a mixture of Roman-Dutch and English law and our legal education system is also very similar to that in Europe.  Therefore, if these countries are discovering that their legal education systems are failing to prepare lawyers for the challenges of lawyering in the 21st C, we need to sit up and take notice.

While many of our university law departments do have legal aid clinics which allow students practical experience at lawyering, there is still much work to be done on creating more innovative curricula.

As Magda Slabbert, Professor of Jurisprudence for Unisa points out in her paper on the Requirement of Being a Fit and Proper Person:

“Formal education in the law does not prepare lawyers for the moral challenges of the profession. The ultimate aim of legal training is to enable the student to become a successful attorney or advocate. Knowledge is important in order for the lawyer to be able to make a convincing case for either side in a dispute. –

BUT… 

“What this sort of learned cleverness does not require is either a developed capacity to judge what is right or a disposition to seek it”

(from Eshete A “Does lawyer’s character matter?”)

So what’s happening in the US that we can learn from?  Below are a few points from an article you can read in its entirety here.

  • Legal educators from more than 30 law schools across the country have joined together to make experiential legal education the norm and not just an afterthought.
  • Northeastern University School of Law offers an interesting example because, almost 50 years ago, it pioneered a cooperative model of legal education that integrates theory and practice by requiring students to fulfill all the traditional classroom work while also spending a year immersed full-time in practice settings as diverse as law firms; judges’ chambers; and prosecutor, public defender and legal aid offices
  • The group was formed to ensure that law graduates are ready to join the legal profession with a full complement of skills and ethical and social values necessary to serve clients and the public interest, now and in the future.
  • The symposium will bring together lawyers, judges, students, legal educators and others to begin to forge a new model for legal education and the profession.
  • There is growing recognition across the legal profession and in legal education that business as usual is not acceptable and the time is now to provide more and better educational opportunities for law students, who are the profession’s greatest assets. The alliance is adopting innovative curricula that combine theory and practice to help students puzzle through the challenges and ensure that the profession remains vibrant, dynamic and relevant. This group of legal educators is committed to educating students to hit the ground running, with experience helping clients, collaborating with colleagues, resolving disputes, facing adversaries, drafting documents and interacting with judges, so that these lawyers are ready to solve legal challenges right away.
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