Towards a sound pedagogy in law: a constitutionally informed dissertation as capstone course in the LLB degree programme
The Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree programme should adequately prepare graduates for the demands set by both legal practice and the greater South African society. Law schools are not tasked with producing future legal practitioners, but rather critical thinkers who can engage with the relationship between law and society in a meaningful way, and who recognise their duty to uphold the values of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 when performing their professional duties. Resultantly law teachers should construct learning environments that engage students in ways that help them develop creativity; embedded subject knowledge; and autonomous learning, critical thinking, and lifelong learning skills. A well-structured LLB degree programme should focus on this broader conception of legal education and a dissertation module as capstone course should be closely aligned with this objective. A greater academic influence could result in an academically rigorous degree programme that produces more mature graduates who possess competencies and attributes that exceed that which is demanded of them by legal practice. One way to establish a greater academic influence in a degree programme would be to include a final year dissertation module which demands that students illustrate the ability to think critically. The final year of a degree programme should provide the student with several opportunities aimed at culminating the learning experience and consolidating the skills and knowledge acquired throughout the preceding years of study. Capstone courses facilitate in-depth learning and should be employed to teach crucial skills related to the purpose of the degree. A compulsory dissertation module as capstone course, which embodies the pedagogical approach of transformative legal education, should be included in the revised curriculum of all law schools in South Africa. This dissertation module should demand that students engage critically with the principles of transformative constitutionalism in order to facilitate thinking that goes beyond traditional and conservative constructions of the South African legal system and its purpose. Such a dissertation could develop a student's metacognitive ability and result in the development of new legal skills, and the sharpening of existing skills. When producing a dissertation a student is learning to write as well as writing to learn. Crucially, the process of disserting also requires legal research skills and the ability to formulate effective research strategies. A law student who is capable of utilising various sources of law, synthesising the information found therein and presenting it effectively is illustrating elements of authentic learning. But this form of authentic learning in will be near impossible to achieve without the active guidance of a willing supervisor. Law teachers perpetuate legal culture and the supervisor-student relationship creates the opportunity to sculpt the culture instilled so that it may have the desired impact on the student. The supervisor could advance this process by empowering the student to construct critical and transformative views of South African law. A dissertation module presented in this manner could produce students who are able to engage with law constructively and who will graduate as responsible citizens and aspiring legal professionals who are excited about inspiring social justice and transformation in their communities.
Keywords: Transformative legal education; transformative constitutionalism; pedagogy for law; capstone module; undergraduate dissertation; LLB review; writing skills; graduateness
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