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Alternative Visions of Legal Biography: An Abstract

Citation: Sugarman, David (2014) Alternative Visions of Legal Biography: An Abstract. Legal Information Management . ISSN 1472-6696 (In Press)


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

Biography is booming. William Shakespeare, Samuel Pepys, Steve Jobs and Billy Conolly, for example, have all been the subject of recent biographies that have sold and earned millions. General biographies, such as The Hare with Amber Eyes have sold over 400,000 copies, as have Celebrity biographies and autobiographies. While political biographies may not reach these dizzy heights, they remain popular, as is evidenced by John Campbell on Margaret Thatcher, Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson, Katherine Frank’s Indira: The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, Roy Jenkins on Churchill, Ben Pimlot on Harold Wilson and the Queen, and by the diaries of Harold Macmillan, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn and Chris Mullin (amongst others). Artists of diverse sorts, philosophers, historians and even economists have all attracted a steady stream of admirable biographies, from Bagehot and Beveridge to Warhol and Wittgenstein. At first blush, the contrast with legal biography (other than in the United States) could not be more striking. Under this optic, a few pearls glitter in the mud, such as Nichola Lacey on HLA Hart and R. Gwynedd Parry on David Hughes Parry (UK); Charles Herbert Curry on Sir Francis Forbes, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and Leonie Star on Julius Stone (Australia); and Philip Girard on Bora Laskin and David Ricardo Williams on Chief Justice Sir Lyman Poore Duff (Canada). However, many have been written by unabashed admirers, based on inadequate or undisclosed sources, and published by small obscure presses where they rapidly, and perhaps deservedly, fell out of print. According to this view, the history of legal biography is largely one of failure. It is principally a manifestation of the conservative tradition of legal history and legal scholarship. In this paper, I problematize the notion that the history of legal biography is largely a story of failure and conservatism. Some of the key methodological and theoretical perspectives underlying legal and other forms of biography are described and analysed. I point to long-standing and recent work that embodies visions of biography that suggest ways of expanding the repertoire of legal biography and socio-legal scholarship, and which provide important insights into “what does legal biography add?” My comments derive, in part, from the oral history of English legal education and scholarship that I commenced in 1986, and whose interviewees include LCB (Jim) Gower, HLA Hart, Tony Honore, Peter Stein and William Twining.

Additional Information: This is a pre-print of a paper which will be published in a special issue of Legal Information Management in 2014. It has been developed by the author (Professor David Sugarman, Director of Centre for Law and Society - Emeritus, Lancaster University) from a presentation he gave at “Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day” at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on Wednesday 15 May 2013. The workshop was jointly organised by the British Library, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association.
Creators: Sugarman, David and
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Subjects: Law
Keywords: law and humanities, lawyers, legal biography, legal profession, legal scholarship
Divisions: Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Collections: Legal Biography
  • March 2014 (published)


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