Modern lawyers are far too specialised, says Supreme Court judge

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First Jonathan Sumption QC laid into law degrees, now he’s criticising qualified lawyers for being narrow minded


Specialisation is anathema to the forging of good lawyers, a Supreme Court judge pontificated at the weekend, adding fuel to a currently blazing debate around the relative merits of law degrees and the conversion course.

Jonathan Sumption QC told the Sunday Times (£) that focusing too closely on a specific subject to the exclusion of others is the fast route to dull lawyers who are lacking in creativity.

“Specialisation cramps imagination and limits curiosity,” the silk — who took a seat at the highest bench in the land at the beginning of 2012 — told the newspaper in a lengthy interview, continuing:

I think it’s particularly important to escape [specialisation] if you’re a lawyer, because history is a huge fund of vicarious experience, and what lawyers and judges need above all is experience. Unfortunately, they live only one life, and therefore they are dependent on living some other lives as well. History is a very good way of doing that.

Sumption’s remarks yesterday are part of a theme for the judge. Six months after being appointed to the Supreme Court, he told Counsel Magazine in no uncertain terms that wannabe lawyers should avoid law degrees, as they were tantamount to diseases carried by flea-ridden black rats.

“It is best not to read law as an undergraduate,” the old Etonian, who went on to read history at Oxford, told the barristers’ monthly at the time, adding:

The problem is that we have a generation of lawyers, and this applies to solicitors as well as barristers, who are coming into the profession with much less in the way of general culture than their predecessors. It is very unfortunate, for example, that many of them cannot speak or read a single language other than their own.

Sumption was called at Inner Temple in 1975 and was made up to silk 11 years later at the age of only 38.

As a practising silk, Sumption is probably best known in the public’s eye for his successful defence of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, when the Russian billionaire was sued by his oligarch compatriot Boris Berezovsky.