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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

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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.

24 Comments

Anonymous

Yes I’m sure Sumption really broadened his mind by being at Eton and Oxford……..

And let’s face it, Sumption really doesn’t know anything (or doesn’t care) about Public Law. But don’t take my word for it, take Sedley LJ’s word: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n04/stephen-sedley/judicial-politics

(27)(8)

The Voice of Reason

You clearly know sweet FA about Sumption then…he might have gone to Eton and Oxford but he also is an accomplished and critically acclaimed historian, proficient in several languages, was one of the leading barristers of his generation and managed to be the first barrister in yonks to leap from the Bar to the HL/SC. Pray tell, what have you done with your life?

(12)(7)

Tyrion

Ignore them. Legal cheek is going downhill. Its now dominated by the chippy.

(3)(0)

Solicitor Avacado

I agree with you about his insular views on public law however, I tend to agree with him about diverse practice areas. I practice in many different areas of law as a consultant solicitor, it helps.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Most of the best lawyers I know have come to the profession from a different industry or studied overseas.

(5)(5)

VTESI

The only thing worse than comments like this is by those who do not practice what they preach. Funnily enough, Sumption does.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Lord Sumption made his comments during the luncheon recess of the burglary case he was trying at Mold Crown Court.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

Hahahahaha! Very good.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Doesn’t know what he is talking about😀

(1)(2)

Anonymous

I think he probably does – have you seen his CV?!
Also: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/aug/06/jonathan-sumption-brain-of-britain

But you make a good point.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I didn’t go into law to stoke my imagination and curiosity.

(3)(3)

:)

Why did you go into law ?

(3)(0)

Angie

To earn a shitload of money!!

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Sumption certainly with you on that one ££££

(3)(0)

Lethargic Bystander

He’s assuming a lot about how people come to be in the Law. And as we all know, assumption makes an ass out of you and Sumption.

(8)(4)

Anonymous

While he makes a good point, clients rarely say “You should instruct [name] as they’re a well known generalist”.

(13)(2)

James

Sumption defying classical economics expounded by Adam Smith. I would have to research him more, but I would not say he’s an anti-capitalist either. Somewhat of a difficult position to maintain.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Lawyer to Client: “I’ve never had a case like this before. We need to consult a generalist”.

(6)(3)

Anonymous

Already said.

(1)(2)

Knob Amused

Where is Not Amused?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

NA is clearly on holiday given the lack of his/her comments of late.

(0)(0)

Balderdash Esq.

Are you in love with him or something?

(0)(1)

Kamal

Listen to him read SC decisions on Youtube…it’s rather a thing of beauty…”Lord Sumption will explain the Court’s decision”.

(1)(0)

Protocol Officer

Pretty sure that once a silk is appointed a justice of the High Court or higher they cease to be referred to by Forename Surname QC, even in a personal capacity. Unless he has stated a contrary preference, which I did not see in the Times article, he should be referred to simply as Lord Sumption

(0)(0)

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