By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele
The Law Society of the Free State (FSLS) held its annual general meeting (AGM) in Clarens on 21 October.
The AGM was preceded by a gala dinner where the North West University’s (NWU) Professor Pieter du Toit was the guest speaker. Prof du Toit who is a professor in the law faculty of the NWU spoke on the ‘i-generation’ law student.
The ‘i-generation’ law student
Explaining what the ‘i-generation’ law student is, Prof du Toit said it is ‘the student that we find in our university classrooms these days. They know no other world than the world of iPhones, Google, YouTube and the Internet.’ He then went on to provide an overview of the characteristics of ‘i-generation’ students.
According to Prof du Toit, ‘i-generation’ students relate to the world through technology. He added that they have already started to filter through to legal practice and soon they will do so in much larger numbers. ‘These students present huge challenges to legal education and the legal practice. However, I also believe that they have unique attributes and therefore have great potential as legal practitioners,’ he said, adding that information has always just been a click away for the ‘i-generation’. ‘Technology is more than just a tool, it is part of who they are. This has a number of implications for legal education,’ he said.
Prof du Toit said that through their cellphones students have immediate access to legislation and judgments even while the class is being presented. ‘Whenever any uncertainty regarding an aspect of the law arises during a lecture they can be asked to follow it up there and then and in fact they often do so of own accord. Make no mistake they also force us to be better law teachers – we are kept on our toes. We must know the newest developments in the field we are teaching otherwise we may be embarrassed by students who do some research in class whilst we are teaching,’ he said.
Prof du Toit, however, noted that one of the challenges faced is that students often lack the ability to distinguish reliable material from unreliable and outdated material. He added that they may for instance tell you that you are feeding them incorrect information because they cannot find it in the legislation you are referring to. But on closer inspection one might find that they relied on an outdated electronic version.
Prof du Toit said: ‘Since they have immediate access to more information than one person could ever know or disseminate they simply do not see the professor as a front of all knowledge. They are often critical of what persons in positions of authority tell them. They see them merely as facilitators in their learning process. Research has found that they want more hands on, inquiry-based approaches to learning and are less willing simply to absorb what is put before them by teachers.’
Prof du Toit said many of the students are indifferent to authority and send communication such as e-mails in informal telegraphic style, adding that they ‘need strong guidance regarding the etiquette of a relatively conservative environment such as the law office and the court room, as well as guidance on certain societal skills.’
According to Prof du Toit, with a world of information at their fingertips, ‘i-generation’ students find memorising senseless. He said: ‘They focus on finding, interpreting and benefitting from information,’ adding that he also finds memorising a waste of time. ‘Very few of us had learnt much by memorising. Let us be honest, these days they are confronted with an overwhelmingly complex legal dispensation. In my view the traditional forms of assessment (which still persist in most law schools) will not achieve much. There should be a reduction of rote learning and memorising of facts. I have experimented with open book assessments and invited the students to bring any material they wish to the assessments. The assessments are problem based. In this manner they really start understanding how legislation works … . It allows for deeper learning and the assessment itself becomes a learning process. They do not necessarily fare better in these types of assessments and they tend to underestimate the extent of research and studying required. However, it also became clear to me that when the responsibility is placed in their hands and they fail to succeed, they tend to accept responsibility for the failure,’ he said.
He suggested that the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) should also start rethinking the manner in which candidates are assessed in the admissions exams.
He concluded by stating: ‘In this regard it must also be mentioned that they value feedback. They constantly want to know how they are doing and I expect they would also want to know this from their principal when they do their articles. They get impatient if marks are not made available quickly. And they always want to know what the precise answer to a question is and as we all know in law it is not always as simple as that. It is now settled practice at most universities to provide detailed feedback.’
He questioned what the legal profession was doing to understand the ‘i-generation’ and get the best out of them and added that it cannot be business as usual.
How to improve your law firm
The outgoing president of the FSLS, Deirdré Milton reflected on the International Bar Association (IBA) conference that she had attended a few weeks before the FSLS AGM took place. She said that at the conference there was a session on how to increase your fees by 30% in order to stay in the profession. She highlighted a few suggestions that were made that stood out for her. These were:
She added that to improve billing processes, attendances should be billed immediately while working on a file and that billing should not be left for a later stage. ‘As you might forget exactly what you have done,’ she said. ‘Devise a different fee structure for different matters. For example in certain matters, only have an hour fee and in others, just a success fee, depending on the kind of work you are doing,’ she said.
Ms Milton said that another issue that was highlighted at the IBA conference was human trafficking. She said that many countries are generally unable to curtail human trafficking and that it is a crime that is growing daily. She added that at the moment human trafficking – next to drug trafficking – is one of the biggest income generating crimes worldwide. ‘Twenty-one million people are currently in forced labour positions, not only sexual practices but also for cheap labour. $ 150 million change hands every year across the borders due to the fact that organised crime cannot take place without the corruption of public officials. In other words, all these crimes are being aided and abated by public officials who will approve passports being passed and allow illegal immigrants to cross borders as legal. Public officials accept bribes because they are low paid for their services and for this reason, this crime has been successfully practiced on an ongoing basis,’ she said.
On the day of the AGM Ms Milton welcomed delegates to the AGM. Awards were given to the top three highest interest earners in small, medium and large law firms.
Co-chairperson of the LSSA, Jan van Rensburg gave the LSSA’s report. He also spoke on the establishment of a Legal Practitioner’s Association for South Africa.
Mr van Rensburg also spoke on the Proxi Smart case. He explained that Proxi Smart approached the LSSA with a proposal stating that it would like to do the administration work (or non-reserved work) that conveyancers are currently doing, and that it wanted the LSSA’s approval. Proxi Smart would, from the purchase agreement, gather all the information from clearance certificates to receiving deposits and arranging finances and issuing of guarantees. They would prepare a pack for the conveyancer, which he or she will check and draft a deed of transfer and sign which is the reserved work. The conveyancer will then get 15%.
Mr van Rensburg said that if Proxi Smart manages to split the work, then surely any other litigation can be split into reserved and non-reserved work for attorneys, which will mean that there will be very little left for attorneys to do. He added that some attorneys support it, especially those starting out. Mr van Rensburg stressed the fact that if the money does not go into trust accounts and goes to banks instead, the Attorneys Fidelity Fund will not have money to protect the public and to assist the profession.
FSLS council member, Vuyo Marabane, spoke on the identification cards for practitioners. He said that the subscription fee for 2017 is R 1 881, which is inclusive of R 50 for the cards. The cards will be issued to all practicing attorneys. Candidate attorneys will not receive them. He said that the cards will serve as proof that that individual is an attorney.
The council of the FSLS will remain the same. Its new president is Sizane Jonase.
Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele, Communications Officer, Law Society of South Africa, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Dec) DR 11.