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.
cultural currents narrate the 1970s and 1980s through the political life of
Baroness Thatcher (called to the Bar, Lincoln’s
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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