‘Those Who Wish to Practise Law Should Not Study Law at University’?

17 thoughts on “‘Those Who Wish to Practise Law Should Not Study Law at University’?”

  1. Yes, Yes. That might be right for english law… here in any other country we have a very bad time with our teachers qualifying our tests/exams on this "non-strict" discipline

  2. It is such a bad and biased motion and they still posted it on YouTube…. No one says they "should not", people are just saying they "need not".

  3. Loving Sumption saying it should be taken as a second degree, as I am taking law as a second degree now lol so I am biased. I don't know how much more depressing my life would've been if my time learning about human achievements in world war 2 and the life of Caesar in my early adulthood were replaced by the million different ways killing someone isn't technically murder and is instead, a million other different crimes.

  4. A good debate, but I think four important points were missed.

    1. Academic law and what might be called 'vocational law' are fundamentally different endeavours, involving very different skills. Lawyers often like to flatter themselves by analogising their qualifications with the medical profession. Actually a better analogy would be with accountancy.

    Nobody expects an accountant to hold a degree in accountancy, and though some do, most don't. I think it likely that the very top chartered accountants have hardly studied accountancy at all in any academic sense. They do not require such knowledge. They are not academic researchers in accounting, they are business people. They are not interested in the philosophic 'whys' of accountancy. Conversely, technical accountancy knowledge is a minimal skill level, and only a necessary first step for a chartered accountant. Generally-speaking, you don't hear the top accountancy firms boast that they know all about accountancy. That's taken as a given. Their clients pay them handsomely for their sound judgement and commercial acumen.

    Law is not the same of course, and the analogy is not perfect. However I do think a broadly similar observation applies to lawyers, especially commercial ones, but really in any legal discipline. You don't generally hear lawyers boast about their legal knowledge per se. Practising law isn't quite like that. They are being paid for something more than just being able to recite what they know (though this is still important).

    2. I said in 1 above that my analogy with accountancy isn't perfect, and that's due to the nature of the subject-matter in law. While I agree to an extent with Lord Sumption's observation that what a typical professional lawyer needs to know about the law isn't very extensive, it doesn't follow that having an extensive knowledge of the law at the expense of other subjects is detrimental.

    And as I think Professor Virgo mentioned, there is no reason why law degrees and higher education cannot be reformed to take account of some of the valid concerns that Lord Sumption raises. There is an old saying: 'A law degree sharpens the mind, and narrows it'. I think there is some truth in this. It's a degree that results in a more logical brain, but at the same time, I also feel ignorant of a lot of important subjects in classics, science and the humanities that a more general education that would have given me. On the other hand, we only have so much time and can only learn so many subjects. And if you want to be a lawyer, why not study law?

    3. An academic law degree is not meant to be a preparation for practice. It can help, but just like any other academic degree, it is a preparation for membership of an academic community. Law faculties are not trade schools: at least, not the elite ones like Cambridge Thus the proposition posed in the debate could be seen as misplaced. Nobody told me that my law degree was a preparation for practice, at least nobody that I would have taken seriously. I knew that in order to practice, I would need to take professional exams, which is to be expected when joining a profession. A law degree is just that: a degree. It is not a qualification to go out and start giving advice.

    4. My final point is that I think too much emphasis is being placed on university education. I think the debate reflects this bias in two respects: first, in an assumption implicit in the debate, that prospective lawyers need a university education at all; and second, in the view put by Lord Sumption that a university education (or a 'universal' education, as he might put it) is of value in its own right. I would question these. As Lord Sumption rightly stated, the law can be learnt on the job, (and that used to be how most lawyers trained, including the most eminent ones), but Lord Sumption fails to mention that an advanced level of formal education is not necessitous for someone to train and practice successfully as a lawyer.

    As an aside, I am also curious as to what Lord Sumption's argument is here for 'education'. He doesn't really explain. What is the philosophical basis for this perspective that education is a good thing in its own right? Utilitarianism? Or what? Does a universal education, i.e. university attendance on a broad-based degree, make you happier? Will knowing more about ancient Greek philosophers or understanding the intricacies of quantum physics or the Pareto curve make me a more contented person? I would like to suggest that this is a misplaced perspective when applied generally. Some people will be happier as they become more educated because what they will learn will make them more generous in spirit and more liberal-minded, and the study habits they develop will perhaps make them more intelligent. However, for others, the route to happiness could be to learn a skill that makes the person useful and productive and gives them prestige in the community. Such a person might be completely ignorant when it comes to philosophy or medieval political thought or Anglo-Saxon history or ancient languages or higher mathematics – but if they are content and productive, what is the problem?

    For these reasons, my answer to the proposition put in the debate: 'Those Who Wish to Practise Law Should Not Study Law at University', would be that those who wish to practise law should study whatever they want at university, or preferably, not attend university at all. On the face of it, that makes it look like I am siding mostly with Lord Sumption. I am a little, but far from entirely. I think he made some very good points, but many of his other points about the law and some of his arguments 'against' a law degree are a little too sweeping or simplified for my liking. Just to pick out one example: Sumption claims that law is easy and the really complicated thing is understanding facts and applying the law to these. There is something in this, of course, and most lawyers would recognise what he is saying, but the law isn't easy. It is conceptually difficult and takes time to learn and master. As Professor Virgo said, law is a learned subject that deserves to be pursued in its own right.

    I think regarding educational preparation for lawyers, there is a middle course here: study law for its own sake, or study electronics or home economics, or golf course management, or mathematics, or chemistry, or media studies or psychology….or whatever you want to study. Or go travelling, or learn a trade. Just do what you want. Any of those endeavours, and more, can make you a 'good lawyer' eventually, from one perspective or other.

  5. I vote for Lord Sumption but in a qualified sense if I understand his position correctly. I still believe that law school is needed. I agree that as an undergraduate you should not study law in preparation for law school. That is what the questioner at 46:00 is asking at.

    Here in the U.S. the ABA (America Bar Association)has stated that those who want to go on to law school should not major in pre- law or any other narrow specialization fields. Lord Sumption is correct that a lawyer needs a good broad based liberal arts education. One that requires the student to pursue studies in civilizational history, philosophy, with strong emphasis in ethics/logic/metaphysics and linguistic theory, philosophy, language studies, either classical or modern, literature, natural sciences, etc, etc.

    A lawyer must be able to think abstractly and theoretically about the law. Only by thinking broadly can the lawyer think correctly in a concrete fashion and apply the law. Its sad that there are students who cant see this. However Lord Sumpton is absolutely correct that its because they have a very inaccurate view of the purpose of the university. They see it as vocational training rather than education.

  6. For a law professor graham put forward some pretty weak arguments. Played right into Lord Sumption's hands.

Leave a Reply