Johannesburg - The composition of first-year law students is irrevocably changing and reflects the transformation the profession is currently undergoing.
According to the Law Society of South Africa's department of legal education and development (LEAD), last year there were more women (3 873) first-year students than men (3 118) studying law. Almost 74% of the first-years were black.
Most law students choose the four-year LLB degree while fewer students tackle BCom LLB.
Although an increasing number of students were queuing up to study law, LEAD director Nic Swart said this was not necessarily a bad thing.
He believed a law degree to be one of the most versatile qualifications.
There were indeed graduates who struggled to find jobs, but someone who worked hard and showed initiative should succeed.
Some of the big international law firms, including Davis Polk & Wardwell, had been recruiting South African graduates for some years.
The brain drain in the legal profession had not yet reached crisis proportions, but Swart said this was something local law firms needed to take note of.
While the top students usually adjusted well in practice, incisive questions were being asked about the overall quality of graduates and their ability to function in the highly competitive legal profession.
Swart said a general complaint received from legal firms was that candidate attorneys’ reading, writing and numerical skills were “shockingly” weak. Even large legal firms that attracted the strongest students experienced this problem.
According to Swart, many graduates also struggled with technology and legal resources, such as law reports and legal reference books. He said prospective law students should undertake thorough research before deciding on a university.
Although most of the country’s 17 law faculties’ LLB curricula more or less corresponded, there was often a huge difference in methods of lecturing.
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