What is the Role of a Legal Academic? A Response to Lord Burrows

  • Geoffrey Samuel


In his Lionel Cohen Lecture 2021 Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Burrows argued that the complementary role that academics and judges play is being threatened by a trend in legal scholarship away from practical (or doctrinal) legal scholarship towards one more concerned with ‘deep theory’ and with reasoning from disciplines other than law. This present article challenges some of the assumptions upon which Lord Burrows’ argument is based. In doing this, it asks why legal academics should see their role as one in which they are under a duty to aid the legal profession and the courts, especially given the present expectations about what amounts to good research, adequate methodologies and epistemological sensitivity. It also challenges the distinction between practical legal scholarship and ‘grand theory’. What is needed, the article suggests, is not less grand theory but a greater understanding both of the nature of disciplines and of some of the epistemological conundrums that attach to law as a body of knowledge.

Keywords: Burrows (Lord); epistemology; Frank (Jerome); hermeneutics; judges; legal scholarship; methodology; theory.


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