Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day - 15th May 2013
In this post Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, explains Legal Biographies and outlines a forthcoming event: Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day on 15th May 2013. This is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association.
As varied cultural currents narrate the 1970s and 1980s through the political life of Baroness Thatcher (called to the Bar, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1954), it occurs to me that a recorded interview with Baron Joffe (called to the South African Bar in 1962, just one year before the Rivonia Trial) is among the British Library’s oral history collections (law and the legal system).
Legal Biographies “are a rich and important source of information about the legal system, the evolution of case law and statute and legal cultures more generally”. “Yet … they have been much neglected in the study of law” states the website of the London School of Economics Legal Biography Project.
Further steps to remedy this neglect will be made next month, on the 15th May 2013, at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The “Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day”, organised jointly by the Institute, the Socio-Legal Studies Association, and the British Library, will focus on methodological considerations and problems involved in doing archival research for legal biographies. The day aims to draw attention to archives that newcomers to the field may not be aware of and to consider the practical problems involved in analysing sources.
Sorabji, Cornelia, bachelor of civil law in 1892, called to the bar 1923, diaries covering 1919 – 23 are held at The British Library e.g. File reference: Mss Eur F165/81. Photograph of Bust at Lincolns in by James Frankling CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Given recent initiatives in research methods training and the roles of social-sciences and history in the evolution of disciplinary paradigms in academic legal research, growing interest in legal biography is perhaps unsurprising. Interest in biography and life course research is clearly evident from the British Sociological Association’s conference programmes and Auto/Biography Study Group for example.
Names such as Maine, Maitland, Milsom and Holdsworth are prominent in the story of history’s role in British legal scholarship. However the work of Hurst and Horrowitz (what is it about Ms and Hs!) demonstrate, as Ibbetson points out on page 875 of The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (OUP 2003), a shift in US legal history which, at least superficially, suggests the utility of biographical methods. This was the shift of focus away from legal doctrine and towards “institutional frameworks”, “legal practitioners and administrators”. Biography has also recently been described as the “new history” of the moment.
Examples of North American academic interest in legal biography can be seen for example through the Women’s Legal History – biography project at Stanford, the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History - Oral History Programme.
UK socio-legal enquiry has embraced investigation of the professions and institutions of law, looks beyond the roles of legal elites to administrators (court clerks, street level enforcers, and bureaucratic decision makers), and also searches beyond the monologue of the appeal judgments for the lives of the litigants. The litigants story has also emerged, for example through critical evaluation of the narrative of standard institutional histories, asking for example, what happened to the eponymous Miss Bebb of the landmark case,  1 Ch 286, concerning the opening of the legal profession to women.
However, while legal studies embraces, at times, the need to look beyond legal rules and doctrines, legal biography, as this LSE Project reminds us, also aids our understanding of the “evolution of case law and statute”.
The Legal Biographies training day on the 15th May is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA). If you are interested to find out more about methods and resources in legal biography then why not register and come along to IALS (Russell Square, London) to learn from the experiences of legal academics, archivists and librarian’s working in the field.
Confirmed speakers include: Rosemary Auchmuty, (Reading University) talking about researching the life stories behind Bebb v The Law Society - a case concerning women’s admission to the legal profession, Lesley Dingle (Squire Law Library ) talking about the Eminent Scholars Archive, Guy Holborn (Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn, adviser to the LSE Legal Biographies Project and author of Sources of biographical information on past lawyers) on biographical method and the Inns of Court, Les Moran (Birkbeck) and Linda Mulcahy (LSE Legal Biographies Project) on using image in legal biography, Giles Mandelbrote (Lambeth Palace Librarian and Archivist) on Ecclesiastical court records at Lambeth Palace Library, Jon Sims (British Library) on exploiting the library’s collections for legal biography, Mara Malagodi (LSE) on archival investigations and researching the neglected constitutional legacy of Sir Ivor Jennings in Asia, Susannah Rayner (SOAS) and Antonia Moon (British Library) on archival resources at the School of Oriental and African History and India Office Archives, , Elizabeth Dawson (IALS Archivist) on using archival resources at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
Online Registration and Further Details: for further details and online registration for Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day (15 May 2013, 10:00 - 17:00) please see the Events Calendar on the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies website. The cost for the day’s event, including lunch and refreshments is £30 (Student rate), £60 (SLSA members), and £70 (full price).
Our 'help for researchers' pages contain more information about The British Library's Socio-Legal Studies Collections
Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, can be followed on twitter @SSCRLaw