Facing the challenge of improving the legal writing skills of educationally disadvantaged law students in a South African Law School
Many first-year students in the School of Law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College, who have been disadvantaged by a poor primary and secondary education, exhibit poor legal writing skills. Over a period of four years, in order to address this urgent need for legal writing instruction, the School of Law introduced two successive legal writing interventions. The first intervention was the Concise Writing Programme, followed by the Integrated Skills in Context Programme. The Concise Writing Programme focused on English writing skills and grammar in the hope that first-year law students would be able to transfer these generic writing skills to the more specific legal discourse within which they were learning to operate. The Law School reviewed the success of this initial programme and found that students who took part in the programme not only lacked the motivation to learn generic English writing skills, but that they also did not find it easy to transfer these skills to the more specific legal writing environment. The Law School then implemented a second legal writing intervention – The Integrated Skills in Context Programme. This programme acknowledged the fact that legal writing has a multi-faceted nature, encompassing legal analysis and application, as well as logical sequencing and argument, all of which could not be taught in a vacuum, particularly when most of the student base was largely unfamiliar with any form of legal discourse and many had English as a second language. This paper recognises that there is no silver bullet to improving the legal writing skills of these students. The reality is that it will take hard work as well as financial incentives to make a difference to these students' legal writing skills. Our students need intensive one-on-one attention by qualified academics, and this means that those doing the instruction must be recognised and adequately compensated.
Keywords: Legal writing skills; South African Law School; generic English writing skills; academic disadvantage; legal discourse; legal analysis and application