Kids show interest in law

2014-03-25 00:00

HIGH school children are being asked by career councillors if they want to “be a Gerrie or a Barry” — and many are saying yes.

Experts have told The Witness the televised trial of Oscar Pistorius, and the coming Shrien Dewani trial, could have a major effect on kids’ aspirations to join the legal profession — despite the “unrealistic” image of wealth and glamour shown by defence advocate Barry Roux in particular.

In the United States, enrolment to law schools peaked in 1991 — following the highest ratings for the TV series LA Law — and again in 2010, after the early popularity of the Law and Order series. Enrolment in the U.S. has since tumbled by 24%, due to the recession, and much higher TV ratings for medical shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy.

Careers councillor Dr Chael Nel, a clinical psychologist, said the timing of the Pistorius trial added to its influence, since many Grade 12s and even Grade 11s were applying or pre-applying to universities this month. “We talk to kids about careers in terms of icons, so I ask them about the lawyers in the Pistorius case — many are interested in being like Gerrie Nel, especially,” said Nel. “I had a few asking about the case last week. Obviously, we point out that the career is generally much less glamorous, but I think the interest is a very good thing. We find the kids only watch the trial in bits and pieces before getting bored — their parents watch for hours and hours — but it is influencing some decisions.”

Deans of two law schools said they received “more than enough” applications — but that they wanted more high-achieving matriculants to consider law rather than medicine or actuarial science. Professor Karthy Govender, acting dean of the UKZN law school, said the Pistorius and Dewani cases would “definitely have an impact” on career choices.

“Ideally, we’d like young people to apply because they want to contribute to our constitutional democracy, but if it’s because they see the power of these legal figures on TV, that’s okay too,” said Govender. “Of course, the very high fees earned by Barry Roux might also influence some, though students should be aware that the career is really about discipline and effort.”

However, U.S. enrolment also dipped after the televised OJ Simpson trial — because the jousting attorneys portrayed immature pettiness, rather than glamour, according to law school dean Michael Rappaport, speaking to the LA Times.

Professor Pamela Schwikkard, dean of the law school at UCT, said that — despite media criticism of Roux’s emotive approach to cross examining — the Pistorius trial was “much more realistic” than fictional TV shows.

Schwikkard quipped that the quality of Greys Anatomy might lure away some potential lawyers, but that “at least the legal profession is ahead of actuarial science when it come to [TV shows].”

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