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Feb 26, 2020

Strathmore Law Review Writing Seminars: Improving the Legal Research and Writing Skills of SLS Students

The Strathmore Law Review team during a mock event. To celebrate five years of promoting African legal scholarship, the team introduced the ‘SLR Writing Seminars’.

In Re-Imagining Pan-Africanism, Issa Shivji envisions a university as ‘a terrain of the clash of ideas to generate ideas’. The Strathmore Law Review (SLR) has remained focused in this vision within the Law School. For the last 5 years, we have consistently reviewed, refined and published legal papers from all over Africa. Each of these has striven to address a problem in Africa.

Introducing SLR Writing Seminars

To celebrate these five years of consistency in promoting African legal scholarship, we introduced the ‘SLR Writing Seminars’. Through these seminars, we provide feedback to our fellow law students on the essential features of quality legal research and writing, this being our core business.

Our major focus has been dissertations since each law student is required to produce one in partial fulfillment of the requirements of their LLB programme. We provide quality feedback from the student’s conceptualisation of their dissertation topic in 3rd year, through the writing of their dissertation in both 3rd and 4th year, to their mock-defence in 4th year.

At the conceptualisation stage, we raise questions such as:

  • Is the student’s topic useful and of practical relevance?
  • Is the student’s topic focused on one specific and well-defined idea or concept?

At the dissertation writing stage and during the mock-defenses, we provide feedback on the key elements of their work. These include the background to the problem, the problem statement, the research questions and/or hypotheses, their framework, and findings as well as any matters related to the style of their dissertation. We insist that the student approaches their topic with lots of academic rigour and in a way that is new or different from others writing on the same subject. Consequently, the author’s contribution to the field of knowledge must be clear.

Mock-defenses

The mock-defenses are intended to prepare the students for their final defenses towards the end of 4th year. We have successfully conducted more than 30 mock-defenses over the last four weeks. Mock-defense panels were constituted of SLR and Strathmore University Press (SUP) editors as well as some SLS Graduate Assistants. Each mock-defense had a maximum of three panelists and was conducted either in a boardroom or the Policy Innovation Center, to give the student the feel of an actual defense.

Beyond dissertation substantive and technical issues, the panelists were also looking at the student’s soft skills. These include listening skills, confidence, their use of the English language, their ability to present their work, clearly and coherently, their body language and eye contact, amongst others.

Positive reviews

The feedback received from students who have taken part in these seminars has been very encouraging. Third-year students have found it instrumental in the writing of their dissertations and some have come back to us with the good news that they have scored highly in their topic conceptualisation stage. Fourth-year students wish to have undergone our mock-defenses before they could submit their final dissertation drafts. This is because they did not have the chance to study the feedback received from our mock-defenses so as to implement it in their final dissertation draft. This is the first crop of fourth-year students participating in the SLR Writing Seminars. The current third-year class will benefit from these seminars immensely since they will have had the time to act on our feedback before submitting their final drafts.

The seminars are equally important for our editors. They are an opportunity for them to improve their editing skills and spot the most outstanding dissertations that deserve some space in an SLR issue.

Our gratitude goes to the SLS administration (specifically Dr. John Ambani, Lucy Muli, Dr. Jane Wathuta, Constance Gikonyo, Emma Senge and Millicent Obange) for providing us with the support that we needed to conduct these seminars successfully.

 

This article was written by Arnold Nciko and Michelle Malonza, SLR Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor respectively.