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28 Jan 'Those Who Wish to Practise Law Should Not Study Law at University'?



On 27 February 2013 the Faculty of Law hosted an important and lively debate between Lord Sumption and Professor Graham Virgo on the motion ‘Those who wish to Practise Law should not Study Law at University’.

Sir Patrick Elias, Lord Justice of Appeal, who chaired the debate, kept order in a packed auditorium.

For more information, see http://www.law.cam.ac.uk/press/news/2013/03/those-who-wish-to-practise-law-should-not-study-law-at-university/2190

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MOST RECENT COMMENTS
42 Comments
  • Samuel Kuo
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Professor Virgo brilliantly dismantled Lord Sumption's arguments.

  • Регистровый анализ навязчивых мыслей
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    May be, you are right. A lecturer's helping you will be timely, if he explains that we should consider law in different contexts. Not only in the buildings of the universities. To practise law, as i see it, means to view it in the various aspects of our life.

  • Andy Hay.
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Those that can, do. Those that cant , Teach.

  • Daniel Botwood
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    In a free transparent and democratic society, the law in general should be taught to all our children at school. The very fact that our system of justice is administered by a private occult society begs further scrutiny. It can be argued that the degradation of our society is primarily down to the apathy and corruption of our judiciary. We see it now with the arbitrary criminalization of the common man and the most important crimes go unhindered.
    Question: at what point to the public have the jurisdiction to violate the rights of the private individual?

  • Rohini rohini
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    How to complain about a recruitment agency?

    #law #divorce @qredibleuk

  • Rod Haereiti
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Scire leges, non hoc est verba eorum tenere, sed vim et potestatem. To know the laws, is not to observe their mere words, but their force and power. -Maxim of Law.

    Non in legendo sed in intelligendo leges consistunt. The laws consist not in being read, but in being understood -Maxim of Law.

  • Big Neuton
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Practice*

  • B G
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    I'm glad Professor Virgo saw Legally Blonde – the film with Reese Witherspoon. That bit about Aristotle was taken directly from the film.

  • Superficies Solo Cedit
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    For all of his undeniable wisdom, Mr. Virgo submits a fallacious argument for numerous reasons – please allow me to shed some light on one; the analogy between a one year law conversion course and becoming a GP, which Mr. Virgo moots at roughly 29 mins into his rebuttal, is quite simply factually unsound – a better analogy would have been that of, perhaps, an A&E junior (though they remain the dregs no doubt) – one doesn't simply complete there medical degree and then, subject to not being good enough in order to specialize, become a GP of the batt, so to speak – its a rather arduous process, full of much training – however, the result often, but certainly not all of the time, results in a practitioner who doesn't particularly know much and is reliant upon readily accessible data in way of diagnosis. The best GP's that I have ever met are those that have a wider understanding of things – not matter how that understanding is derived – seldom from Med School though.

  • Catalyst2
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    I have to admit, Law School is lacking enough central focus on philosophy, equity and common law. All it usually teaches is legislation with dribbles of common law. Equity (the true and supreme core) is virtually left out – which is odd considering equity is the foundation of all law and legal philosophical principles.

  • Love Two
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    The thing is in the olden days when those Lords and Reputable Judges went to school, law were indirectly incorporated into all their specific subjects they have studied. Every olden days studies had law embedded in them. The Law of motion, the law of gravity, community and social rules were all parts of those subjects. The Standard 6 Qualification holder (in the 1950s or early years) is equivalent to the Master degree of this contemporary world of today. I am proud of my Mum and Dad. They were respected teachers and Chemists.

  • Love Two
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Passion for the community betterness an holistic legal minded

  • Michael Spyrou
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Agree with Lord Sumption.

  • Travel Review
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Great arguments!!! As a scientist, it's hard to comprehend why 2+2 does not always equal 4 in legal profession. In law, many times, 2+2 could be anything other than 4, as long as one can twist the facts, or non facts for that matter. This is just one argument which, in my eyes, would make law an unfulfilling profession. It's not a scientific thinking process, it's a simply and undisputed fact that 2+2 is always 4, not when it's convenient to be.

  • Laura Hamlyn
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    quoting legally blond?

  • Radical Rodriguez
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Lord Sumption is, to my mind, obviously right.

  • PF Chim
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    To be a barrister, the more law you study the better tbh. However to be a solicitor, you don't need an LLB at all, particularly in transactional areas.

  • Gillian Cockroft
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    !😂

  • Dominique Ford
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    not the only subject but the teachers will keep it real with ya if u ask

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Would the greatest liar please put their hand up.

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Virgo is a more forceful speaker. Australian Aboriginals have their own laws developed over perhaps 60,000 years.
    It is only after 200 years of occupation and genocide that the Native Title Act was passed after a long struggle and discrimination.

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Good insight into law. Why not be a barrister then go into chimney sweeping, cough, cough?

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    HRH Prince William the Duke of Cambridge has been inducted into Middle Temple.

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Australian banks have found novel ways of picking-pockets the Royal Commission into Banking has found. Executives of ANZ, Citi and Deutsche Bank may face criminal charges. Cough, cough. But all major banks have been accused of corruption.

  • Michael Mallal
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    My uncle Dr Bashir Mallal LL.D of Singapore didn't attend university as he was too poor. He worked in a legal office and went on to publish the Malay Law Journal which covered courts in Malaya, Singapore and Brunei. He was awarded an honouray doctorate of laws by NSU for services to the legal community and was considered highly knowledgeable in legal matters.

  • Karlan Mitchell
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    You can already practice in law, at/in court without university. However, to practice at law, in court is a different story….

    Either way, you are subject to the court and the suitor's standards and expectations.

    It really depends on what laws you intend to practice.

    There is your lawyer answer.

  • Wild Life
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Please fix that TIE!!!

  • Oscar Davies
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Does anyone know the name of Lord Sumption's article that Professor Virgo mentions at 27:43 and if it can be found online?

  • timbolicous
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Looks like the cameraman didnt have much imagination…no reaction-shot at https://youtu.be/uMR1NIEifWM?t=1977

  • Brave Reprove
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    I knew the Professor was misrepresenting Lord Sumption

  • Dan Guerriero
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Lord Sumption is correct law is based on the facts.

  • Agree Boian
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    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

  • albu obscure
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    His medics argument is so terrible, let alone in the country that has the NHS.

  • AntPDC
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    I thought Virgo unconvincing: shrill, camp, catty, vaguely lightweight.

  • Justin j
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    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".

  • Edwin Xiao
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    The motion is simply badly worded.

  • del boy
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    DO WHAT THE CORRUPT LAWYERS DO,WHEEL AND DEAL DOWN THE LOCAL PUB

  • Inherent Emperess
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    Being good lawyer is all about traits suxh as self control not training

  • timlamiam
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    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.

  • Tom Rogers
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    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.

  • EmmanuelGoldstein74
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    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.

  • Relationship Real
    Posted at 23:19h, 28 January

    What all aspiring lawyers should know…https://youtu.be/2BTxTuh5hp4

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