Dean’s message

Good writing is important in most professions but good legal writing is indispensable in our profession, namely the legal profession as well as associated career paths. I appreciate the perspective of Gerald Lebovits:

“You can’t be a great lawyer, whatever your other qualities, unless you write well. … ‘Without good legal writing, good lawyering is wasted, if not impossible.’ Imperfect writing leads to imperfect results: ‘[A]bout as many cases are lost because of inadequate writing as from inadequate facts.’ Legal educators agree on little. But many agree that legal writing is the most important skill that future lawyers must acquire. Legal ethicists have their debates. But they agree that legal writing must be competent” (Gerald Lebovits Legal-Writing Myths (September 1, 2015). 16 Scribes J. Legal Writing 113 (2014-2015); NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2654470. Available at SSRN: footnotes omitted).

At Stellenbosch University Faculty of Law (“the Faculty”) we recognise and pursue the art of good legal writing. In 2016, Hough Louw and Broodryk wrote:

“The notion of making student legal writing visible, and understanding that all students require assistance to learn to speak in new legal voices and write in the academic discourse of the legal environment, is something all law faculties need to embrace. When law faculties, therefore, recognise this as an indispensable part of their students’ success and their success as a faculty in educating capable graduates, they can prioritise legal writing as part of a writing-intensive curriculum with whatever resources they do have available” (Chantelle Hough Louw and Theo Broodryk “Teaching legal writing skills in the South African LLB curriculum: The role of the writing consultant” 2016 Stell LR 535 at 553).

South African universities are functioning under increasing financial constraints. Regardless of this fact, the Faculty’s teaching strategy aims to inculcate the appreciation that law students must master not only the acquisition of substantive knowledge during their studies but also the expertise and aptitude to use that knowledge of legal rules and content in an effective way. In other words, good legal writing is only possible when you have a well-constructed legal argument which is then presented clearly, concisely and convincingly in writing. Moreover, the need for collaborative legal writing has become clear in a globalised and complex world. I believe that through our programme design and the implementation of our teaching strategy the Faculty succeeds in “educating capable graduates”. Over the last decades a body of academic literature has materialised that sets out the theoretical and conceptual frameworks for good legal writing. Our own colleagues have also contributed to this body of work and we are fortunate to have thought leaders in this field in our Faculty.

It is important that our students understand the reasons for focussing on legal writing. In a contribution entitled “What is ‘good legal writing’ and why does it matter?” (See Mark K. Osbeck Michigan Law Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 252 September 2011) Osbeck explains that it is generally accepted that good legal writing requires at least three elements. First, good legal writing is clear, secondly, it is concise and thirdly it is engaging. I do support Osbeck’s submission that good (legal) writing is, however, also elegant: “… great writing transcends its functional purpose and exhibits an artistry not found in ordinary writing” (at 56).

As a law student, you will be reminded that it is not sufficient to look at the writer’s purpose when appraising whether a legal document is well-written. Of course, there are many different types of legal documents that include opinions, memorandums, and findings. To assess whether a document is well-written, the type of document matters as well as the needs, interests, and perspectives of the reader(s). As Soonpaa said, “effective writers do not merely express, but transform their ideas to meet the needs of their audience.” Even though all legal writing aims to effect a certain effect on the reader(s) (e.g. persuading another party of your submission or a certain position) a document may achieve that effect without necessarily being well-written. Of course, as Osbeck explains, a well-written document may contain weak legal arguments and therefore be ineffective. A well-written and effective document enables the reader to make a good decision in the performance of his/her professional duties. We believe that our students should be able to produce well-written and effective documents and this informs the Faculty’s focus on legal writing.

During your studies at this Faculty you will, therefore, be introduced to the different theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of legal writing, including analogical analysis and reasoning. You will have to communicate to a range of audiences in a variety of formats during your time studying law and I believe that you will be a better jurist for it. I therefore strongly support the Faculty’s strategic legal writing initiatives, including this blog and the support and resources made available through our coordinator and student assistants.

Prof Nicola Smit

Dean, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University

There is a general perception that South African LLB graduates lack the necessary writing skills that will enable them to succeed as legal professionals upon completion of their studies. See, for example:

1  The declining South African LLB – Liesl Peyper (Finweek 15 October 2012)
2  Lack of skill in law graduates says judge – Leanne Janse (IOL News 30 July 2012)
3  LSSA press release – LLB report
4  LLB report urges numeracy, literacy training – Nivashni Nair (Times Live 6 July 2012)

The Faculty of Law of Stellenbosch University (the ‘Faculty’) has adopted an approach in terms of which it has identified a need to be pro-active in attempting to resolve the issue of deficient writing skills among graduates by implementing a strategy to develop the writing skills of students in the Faculty’s undergraduate LLB programme. This strategy forms an integrated part of legal training at the Faculty. The strategy is also a comprehensive one that extends across the LLB curriculum and consists of a number of different and mutually complementary components.

The implementation of the strategy follows a comprehensive and integrated approach across the LLB curriculum. In brief, the strategy comprises four main components:

(1) a compulsory writing skills module for first-year LLB students, which module serves as the basis of the development of students’ academic and legal writing skills;

(2) writing-intensive modules across the LLB curriculum, with writing assignments and writing tutorials;

(3) a Faculty writing guide; and

(4) in-house writing consultants who consult with students individually and lead writing tutorials.

This website further reinforces the Faculty’s strategy in that it’s aimed at, firstly, making students aware of the importance of good legal writing and, secondly, developing students’ ability to communicate effectively in writing. Through the establishment of this website, the Faculty seeks to expose its students to the views of experienced legal professionals and the in-house writing consultants i.e. individuals who understand what it takes to communicate effectively in writing. Students need to appreciate that good legal writing is essential to becoming a respectable legal professional.

The pages and posts on this website contain (and will continuously be populated with) information that is aimed at equipping the Faculty’s students with the ability to communicate effectively in writing in both an academic and a legal context, so as to ensure that the Faculty’s graduates are, from this perspective, able to make a smooth transition into the legal profession upon completion of their studies.

Prof Theo Broodryk

Manager, Law Clinic, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University