Science is harder than law, says Lord Neuberger

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Head of Supreme Court reveals that he became a barrister after failing to cut it as a chemist


Chemistry graduate Lord Neuberger believes science is harder than law.

Giving a speech entitled ‘Science and Law: Contrasts and Cooperation’ at the Royal Society in London last week, the Supreme Court president suggested that studying the law was a “less rigorous” academic pursuit than the sciences.

Neuberger graduated with a chemistry degree from Oxford University, and later made the switch to law via the conversion course now known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

Explaining the switch, Neuberger told the audience at Carlton House Terrace in West London:

The explanation, I said, was plain: it is far easier to switch from a more rigorous subject to a less rigorous subject than the reverse. So, a move from chemistry to law was no problem.

Describing the sciences as a “more exacting discipline than law”, Neuberger — whose father, Albert, and brother, Michael, were both distinguished biochemists — conceded that he was in fact “inept” as a chemist.

Neuberger had a famously roundabout route into the law. He was called to the bar in 1974 after a three-year spell as an investment banker at Rothschild, which was preceded by a brief period conducting postgraduate research into semi-synthetic proteins as a chemistry graduate at Oxford. At the bar he found his feet, and had a successful career specialising in land law, taking silk in 1987, before making the switch to the judiciary. He was appointed Supreme Court president in 2012.

Continuing his analysis of routes into the law, the Supreme Court president recalled the time he met with legal academics from Germany in 2012. Recounting their horror that the academic legal training of the most senior judge in the UK amounted to just a year-long law conversion course, Neuberger reflected:

[T]hey were incredulous that anyone who had studied science for four years, and law for little more than a year, much of it part-time, could become a senior judge.

Agreeing with the German academics to a certain extent, Neuberger went on to sympathise with law students and lawyers who have spent evenings wading through his judgments, continuing:

I thought at the time that they had a point, and no doubt some readers of my judgments may agree with them.

Neuberger’s revelation follows conflicting findings last week that law is in fact a harder subject to study than medicine.

An aspiring doctor and lawyer at Bristol University swapped lectures for a week in order to discover who has it tougher. The conclusion from this not so scientific experiment? Law is harder — and more boring.

Read Lord Neuberger’s speech in full below: