The role of law clinics needs to be intensified

April 23rd, 2024

Daven Dass was recently appointed President of the South African University Law Clinics Association.


On 7 February 2024, practising legal practitioner and academic, Daven Dass, was appointed as President of the South African University Law Clinics Association (SAULCA). He is a senior lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and primarily lectures on commercial and corporate subjects. Mr Dass told De Rebus that at the end of 2022, in the pursuit of his PhD, he stepped down after an eight-year term as director of the Wits Law Clinic – one of the largest law clinics in South Africa – which celebrated its 50th anniversary at the end of last year. He added that he perceives himself as a product of the Wits Law Clinic after initially commencing his articles of clerkship, and only to return after being admitted at a private law firm.

Since 2009, Mr Dass has also been a part of the Legal Education and Development (LEAD) structure, as both a course director and instructor, and fondly recalls his days of not just working alongside but learning from the architect of LEAD, Nic Swart. ‘I am also a steering committee member for the Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) having been voted as the African representative and a trustee of the Association of Legal Aid Institutions (Aulai) Trust,’ Mr Dass said.


Kgomotso Ramotsho (KG): How do you feel about being appointed the President of the SAULCA?

Daven Dass (DD): With a complete measure of honesty there is mixed emotions of anxiousness at the tasks that lie ahead, but an overwhelming sense of gratitude to so many colleagues from practice, academia, continued legal education and the countless individuals, some of whom have sadly passed, for their invaluable and prolific contribution to this appointment.


KR: What does a President of SAULCA do?

DD: As president I will chair the executive of SAULCA who fortuitously comprises of such astutely passionate and seasoned university law clinicians in furthering the core activities of SAULCA and engage with all relevant stakeholders in the pursuit of SAULCA’s mission and vision. The president is also tasked through their leadership to embolden the professionalism and efficiency of the organisation ensuring the progression of excellence in clinical legal education and access to justice.


KR: What is the importance of law clinics, not only for law students and candidate legal practitioners but for communities as well?

DD: Having regard to the current context of the declining results in respect of the competency-based examinations for admission as an attorney, I am reminded of the sentiments expressed at the LLB Summit in 2013 that law clinics are essentially the laboratories of the law school and that their role needs to be intensified. A law clinic experientially provides the law student for the first time in their curriculum with the insights and experience of a law practice and provides an opportunity for them to practically give effect to their theoretical framework. Law clinics expose students – sometimes for the first time – to the opportunity to communicate and engage as a professional. Law clinics are essentially critical in equipping law students with a measure of adequacy in relations to the fundamental skills required of them in practice, such as effective communication and drafting. For me, most importantly, law clinics infuse into students a sense of social justice and give meaning to the tenets of transformative legal education. I recall a matter that I litigated on at the Wits Law Clinic that resulted in a refugee receiving the first ever machine issued travel document that enabled them to travel to see their relative who was on their deathbed. Post COVID-19 and the current economic climate has seen an increased need for professional and quality legal assistance, which law clinics are pivotal in rendering and had it not been for law clinics the most vulnerable members of society would be denied their fundamental right of access to justice.


KR: What can we expect from you in this new role that you have been entrusted with?

DD: I think law clinics across the country are facing significant challenges and this is perhaps symptomatic of the broader issues present in both practice and academia and my role is to on a national scale, both collaboratively and innovatively address these challenges while also renewing a sense of closer synergy and co-operation between university law clinics across South Africa. I want to collectively draw on the strengths of member law clinics in developing and enhancing developing law clinics and want to also foster a closer sense of collaboration with the broader clinical footprint both on the African continent and internationally. It would be remiss of me to say that my role will only be given effect to through the support of so many who have reached out to congratulate me and alongside them I will endeavour to inspire, uplift, and empower, after all that is what ubuntu is about.


Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.