Jonathan Rennie: Legal opportunity and a class apart
Teaching 240 students in Tanzania was an education for Jonathan Rennie
I jumped at an offer to engage with legal education work in Africa as part of the DLA Piper pro bono two-week programme of lectures and interactive workshops to law graduates aged between 19-22. The programme teaches legal drafting skills, including negotiating and drafting dispute resolution clauses.
Law graduates in Tanzania face huge hurdles to gain employment. Last year there were only one or two available jobs for legal trainees in the whole country and around 1,800 applicants. Our mission was to give students a better chance of having a career in law.
After the 14-hour flight we were given teaching tips from the group we were taking over from. The 240 students were split into four groups of 60 and we rotated around each group. We were quite an eclectic bunch of lawyers – from London, Florence, Amsterdam, New York, Kuwait, and even someone from our Iraq office.
The main challenge was that the students didn’t engage or interact in the same way they would in the UK. They were quite shy.
Furthermore, English is not the first language of Tanzania meaning that many legal phrases such as “being in arrears” had to be carefully explained.
We were teaching core legal skills such as how to draft legal documents and how to set out a document using the KISS (keep it short and simple) principle.
I taught alongside Pieter van der Hoeven from our Amsterdam office to a class of 60, teaching up to seven hours a day for five days. We used smaller breakout groups to try to encourage teamwork and project skills.
Another challenge was the broad spectrum of ability across the students. One minute you’d find yourself discussing Scottish independence with one bright student, or even the euro crisis, and the next you’d spend an hour explaining something very basic to someone that they still didn’t really grasp.
Likewise, some students were planning work experience trips to London while others were struggling with the basics of law.
I found it more intense than a normal week in the office because we wanted to do our very best for the students and give them lots of opportunities to ask questions.
It was rewarding to see the students improve over the course of the week and we had very positive feedback.
Africa has a lot of challenges in terms of infrastructure but Tanzania has a bright future as one of the top six fastest-growing economies in Africa.
Over the next decade Tanzania will develop its burgeoning oil and gas industry so there will be a greater need for commercial lawyers.
My time in Africa reinforced how well structured our education system is. For example, at Glasgow University my lecturers had good contacts with the profession but in Tanzania there are so few lawyers the education system doesn’t really know what it’s working towards.
Legal training in Tanzania is very academic so we made our training office-based and client-focused.
Even the word “client” caused anxiety for some students so our value was to make their training more practical and commercially orientated.
The experience has made me conscious of the pitfalls of legal jargon for clients back in Scotland. I think as lawyers, wherever we are, we should always keep it simple.
• Jonathan Rennie is a specialist in employment law with DLA Piper in Edinburgh
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