Brief abstracts of conference sessions will be listed here once the final program has been confirmed.

Title: Experiential Learning to Teach Transformative Professional Legal Ethics within the South African Context: University of Witwatersrand Law Clinc

Lead Presenter: Dass, Daven


  1. Whalen-Bridge, Helena

Session Abstract: Writing an article in terms of which, the teaching of legal ethics is considered, is quite challenging and intimidating giving the plethora of articles and materials on the subject matter. This intimidation is exacerbated by the fact that any pedagogical proposals in relation to the teaching of legal ethics can be construed as banal. The advent of experiential learning and the subsequent establishment of university law clinics, invaluably enriched the teaching of law students. The debates around the teaching of professional legal ethics and more specifically, its teaching within a clinical context is not novel. The literature in this regard can be traced back to 1933 and 1934 by Jerome Frank and Nellie McNamara respectively. Notably, the work of Kevin Kerrigan, Leah Wortham and Clark D Cunningham et al have all substantively considered the teaching of legal ethics or professional responsibility within law clinics in different countries. In contrast, in the South African clinical context there is almost no material in this respect. In my paper therefore, I use the work of Kerrigan, Wortham and Cunningham et al to advance my proposal that the Law Clinic model at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (‘the Wits model’) is an ideal platform for the teaching of professional legal ethics. I begin by considering what is meant by professional legal ethics and why its teaching should not be reserved for vocational training. In this respect, although a definitional base needs to be identified, South Africa’s unique position as a young democracy also means that both a broader and narrower context needs to be considered for the teaching of professional legal ethics. Here, I will discuss the 2014 summit on Professional Legal Ethics convened by the Law Society of South Africa as well as the 2015 Legal Ethics Workshop convened by a committee of the South African Law Deans. I will then examine the precepts of the live client clinical programme in operation at the University of Witwatersrand Law Clinic (Wits). Then, with reference to the Wits model, I address each of the seven challenges as identified by Cunningham et al, when using a clinical course as a primary method for teaching professional legal ethics. I also propose the creation of a mechanism for the standardisation and uniformity of the clinic methodology employed together with the umbrella body of law clinics in South Africa, the Association of South African University Law Clinics. Finally, I argue that as a result of clinic legal education inculcating a sense of responsibility within its students, as well as invoking the tenets of critical thinking, the notion of morality cannot and should not be viewed in isolation to the teaching of professional legal ethics but rather, should be infused into it so as to foster a social justice facet to the students theory of practice. This is both warranted and necessary in light of South Africa’s socio economic challenges, and would lead essentially to a transformed teaching of professional legal ethics.

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