Lord Sumption tells lawyers not to specialise too much, lawyers not happy about it

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By Katie King on

He’s even been accused of ‘sumptionsplaining’


Controversial Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption has set tongues wagging across the Twitterverse after he described legal specialisations as “essentially bogus”.

Aspiring lawyers often um and ah about the practice area they’d like to go into, but a recent speech by Sumption — who himself practised across multiple specialisms — may allay your concerns.

Warning lawyers of the dangers of over-specialisation, the Oxford graduate told a family law conference in London earlier this week that “there are no desert islands in the law”. He used another nature-themed analogy to add that “cross-fertilisation between different areas of law” is “profoundly healthy”.

Though he admits he never practised family law, Sumption reflected on his time as an advocate when he told his audience:

At the bar, I liked to trespass on other people’s cabbage patches. As a judge I do it most of the time.

And, according to him, this is the way to go. Challenging the status quo, he continued:

The essential reason why I am sceptical of specialisation is that I do not regard law as comprising distinct bundles of rules, one for each area of human affairs. This is partly because no area of law is completely self-contained.

This isn’t the first time Sumption has been outspoken and controversial in his views. Just last year, the former head of Brick Court Chambers caused a bit of a stir — to put it politely — when he claimed fast tracking female judges to the judiciary “could have appalling consequences for justice”.

Though his latest keynote address is less provocative, it has been met with similar contention.

On the one hand, some commentators have applauded the top judge for his “refreshingly deep” speech.

Others are less impressed by the former commercial law advocate’s views.

But the biggest reaction of all has come from the family law community, who have accused the former Eton pupil of “patronising” them.

In response to the family law furore, legal commentator David Allen Green has now coined the term ‘sumptionsplaining’.

We really hope this catches on.

Read the speech in full below: