An analysis of the textual practices of undergraduate and postgraduate novice writers in law

  • Lesley Anne Greenbaum University of Cape Town
  • Abongwe Bangeni University of Cape Town
Keywords: textual practices, legal writing, novice law students,


Criticisms in the media and in the law professions about the writing skills of law graduates have drawn attention to the challenges that novice law students experience in acquiring these skills at the foundation level. Our research project attempts to understand the nature of these challenges from multiple perspectives: firstly, by sourcing students’ understandings of their challenges with legal writing through semi-structured interviews, followed by a close textual analysis of samples of their writing, as well as through feedback from teaching staff. In this paper, we present the findings of our textual analysis of their writing. We illustrate how their difficulties with legal writing manifest at the levels of content, concept and lexico-grammar and how the students’ struggles with legal concepts had implications for their overall engagement with the content of the subject matter. At the level of content, students exhibited problems with the appropriate presentation of subject matter, achieving precision in their writing and showing evidence of an appreciation of what counts as tacit knowledge within the discipline, while at the lexico-grammatical level they struggled with tense, preposition and article use. The paper concludes by recommending some strategies for responding to these challenges while taking into account their resource implications.

Author Biographies

Lesley Anne Greenbaum, University of Cape Town
Lesley Greenbaum is a senior lecturer in the Private Law Department of the Law Faculty at the University of Cape Town. She is convenor or the Law Academic Development Programme.  Her areas of interest include legal writing, students’ acquisition of legal discourse and effective teaching methodologies in the discipline.Email:
Abongwe Bangeni, University of Cape Town
Bongi Bangeni is a senior lecturer in the Centre for Higher Education Development’s Academic Development Programme at the University of Cape Town. Her areas of interest include the development of a disciplinary identity in novice writers and the ways in which student writers experience the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies.Email: