Pilot Internship Programme to Assist Law Graduates Develop Professional Identity

Dr Eben van der Merwe (second from left) with one of his supervisors, Professor David McQuoid-Mason (second from right); his daughter, Dr Amy van der Merwe (far left); and his wife, Advocate Mary O’Gorman

UKZN doctoral graduate Dr Eben van der Merwe has developed and implemented a pilot internship programme focusing on social justice for undergraduate Clinical Law LLB students which he says could serve as a model for other Law schools in South Africa.

Van der Merwe designed the programme during his studies for a PhD in Higher Education which he was awarded during this year’s Autumn Graduation ceremonies.

He said his doctorate enabled him to examine the most appropriate pedagogical approaches and learning theories to implement an interdisciplinary approach to legal education. The results of the study suggested the internship programme significantly impacted the professional identity of study participants.

His PhD thesis focused on final-year LLB students learning about social justice through an internship programme.

The South African LLB standards document implies that employability after graduating with a Law degree and developing a professional identity are some of legal education’s core aims and outcomes.

Said van der Merwe: ‘I look forward to advocating for work-integrated-learning to be a compulsory part of undergraduate LLB legal education, offering specialist master’s degree programmes that provide intensive, interdisciplinary, and transformative learning experiences for postgraduate students. The process aims to assist undergraduate and postgraduate Law students to form a professional identity to guide them in their future legal careers.’

He developed a passion for teaching and promoting development through education early in his career by teaching Social Work at the then-University of Natal in 1987, with his passion culminating in further lecturing opportunities at the Law Society of South Africa’s Practical Legal Training School, and training candidate attorneys from 1997 to 2010 and at the UKZN School of Law from 2008 to 2019.

Since 1996, he has been an attorney in private practice, continuing to be the Supervising/Principal Attorney at UKZN’s Howard College Law Clinic (which provides free legal services to indigent community members) from 2008 until 2019. Since 1996, 42 candidate attorneys have been in a service contract with him, all of whom subsequently became admitted Attorneys or Advocates. ‘There are few things in life I find as satisfying as watching a new LLB graduate grow and blossom into a legal practitioner under my guidance.’

Said van der Merwe: ‘I will be eternally grateful to my supervisors and education specialists, Professor Saras Reddy and Professor Rubby Dunpath, and Professor David McQuoid-Mason, who is a global leader in Clinical Legal Education.’

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied

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