The South African School of Paralegals (SASP) has incorporated selected parts of at least three recently promulgated national Acts into a selection of some of its courses, which it believes will provide a better understanding and interpretation of the law for its students.
“We are always looking to improve and update our course offerings so that we make them relevant to our society by adding commentary on the legislation that we feel will provide a better understanding for our students.
“The National Credit Act (NCA) has been added to the debt collecting course, while the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) has been included in the business law course, and the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) has been incorporated into the criminal law course,” says SASP principal Danie van Zyl.
He notes that students sometimes struggle to apply the Acts because of a lack of understanding of the technical terms being used. This is a significant concern for the SASP, which necessitated the inclusion of these studies into the courses.
The purpose of the NCA is to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of South Africans; to promote a fair, transparent, competitive, sustainable, responsible, efficient, effective and accessible credit market and industry; and to protect consumers.
The CPA aims to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of consumers in South Africa by establishing a legal framework for the achievement and maintenance of a consumer market that will benefit all consumers.
The objective of the SOA is to offer sexual offences com-plainants the maximum and least traumatising protection that the law can provide, to introduce measures which seek to enable the relevant organs of State to give full effect to the provisions of this Act, as well as to combat and eradicate the relatively high incidence of sexual offences committed in the country.
Van Zyl points out that having students from different working environments and different social stratifications has encouraged the school to be more dynamic and elaborate in the ways in which these Acts are taught.
“The inclusion of the Acts to our courses adds more value to paralegals, although some of the information is general. Some points mentioned, however, have proved to be of interest to the students and, therefore, require some additional attention.
“To make our courses more relevant, our lecture notes include annexures, which provide a scenario to help make the student understand what we are trying to teach them. In some instances, we have also arranged for students to accompany us to court so that they get a general feel for the proceedings in the courtroom,” he explains.
Collaboration of Law and Paralegals
A paralegal assists qualified lawyers in their legal work, which means that it is pivotal that the ability to collaborate founded on a firm understanding of the law is cultivated in these professionals.
The SASP also believes that there should be a platform available to incorporate more paralegals into the domain of lawyers and advocates, who can then share the burden of work.
There are several employment opportunities available to para-legals, explains Van Zyl.
As a trial consultant, a paralegal collaborates with a team of legal experts to make custom multimedia presentations to be used during a trial. These presentations often include videos, illustrations, models, computer-generated animations and other graphics.
As a court reporter, paralegals transcribe what is said during legal proceedings. They need to master the use of a stenotype and must have excellent grammar, punctuation and listening skills. The current shortage of court reporters increases the demand for those who qualify to perform this job.
Paralegals can also become mediators and legal adminis- trative assistants, which adds significant value to the legal sector.
“We have tailor-made our courses in terms of industry requirements and incorporated these demands into the coursework. This will allow our graduates to be an effective part of the legal fraternity.
“Law, as a constantly changing field, means that we always have to be on top of our game and provide the necessary training that will ensure our students access to relevant developments in the industry,” says Van Zyl.
Meanwhile, the school is proud of the interest shown in its work by most banks in South Africa, which have been sending their employees on various courses to obtain a legal background in the different business sectors.
Subsequently, the school has also approached banks for assistance in funding for disadvantaged students who are interested in becoming paralegals. The school has received about 70 bursaries for students in 2012 and is optimistic that more bursaries will be provided this year.