100 years of Legal Scholars

SLS logo, via the SLS site.And so to the University of Keele, for the centenary conference of the Society of Legal Scholars in the United Kingdom and Ireland (SLS). The SLS is a leading learned society for those who teach law in a university or similar institution or who are otherwise engaged in legal scholarship, and many of the events at this year’s conference are centred around the celebration of its centenary. Over four days this week, there are several plenary sessions and nearly 30 subject sessions with several papers each, so I won’t be live-blogging the whole thing, but I hope over the next few posts to give a flavour of some of the papers and presentations I attend. It’s usually a great conference, and I hope that it’s not hubris to hope that the SLS is around for the next 100 years as well.

Cover of Update (10 September 2009): the centenary was a theme in many of the set-piece presentations at the conference. Two in particular stand out. First, on Tuesday 8 September, Prof David Sugarman reflected on key moments in legal scholarship and education in the UK in the last 100 years – what struck me was just how much like 1950s UK law schools Irish law schools currently are. Second, on Wednesday 9 September, Prof Ray Cocks and Prof Fiona Cownie (this year’s President of the Society) spoke in a largely light-hearted way about the highs and lows of the Society’s history. They drew upon their book A Great and Noble Occupation! The History of the Society of Legal Scholars (Hart, 2009) which was launched at the conference. Founded in 1909, the Society was lucky to survive two world wars, the low esteem in which university law schools were held both in the academy and by the professions, and self-inflicted wounds in the refusal to admit women until the late 1940s or law teachers outside universities until much later in the century. Nevertheless, it survived, and in the last third of the twentieth century, it began to prosper – it is now a learned society promoting research scholarship, a central point for policy debate within the legal academic community, and the means by which that community can engage with the professions and wider society.