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Motivated by the lively recent debate about funding for law graduates on the Diploma in Legal Practice course, and about legal education generally, on The Firm's website (and on Twitter @TheFirmOnline) I looked for the first time in a quarter of a century at the inaugural lecture that I delivered exactly thirty years ago as the newly appointed Professor of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh. Here are a few paragraphs from that lecture.
There is abroad in Faculties of Law a feeling that it is unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable, for law students in their degree studies to learn any law -- or at least much law -- which might be useful in practice. All that they need to acquire, and certainly all that the Faculty of Law should assist them to gain, is a knowledge of the sources of law, of where to look for the law. Study of the substance of the law is best avoided, or at least should not be overdone … and must certainly be abandoned should there be any danger that it might deflect a student from what appears to be regarded as his primary objective of broadening his mind by developing an understanding of society, of its economic base, of the operation of law as a means of social control and of the activities of lawyers regarded as a species of the genus professional persons (all professions, of course, being a conspiracy against the layman).
I do not for one moment suggest that we in the Law Faculties should be the lapdogs of the practising profession, directing out teaching solely towards purveying what practitioners regard as essential or desirable for intrants to the profession to know. We, and not the practising profession, must shoulder the ultimate responsibility for deciding what a student must study before the university will confer upon him its degree of Bachelor of Laws. But if we are to retain the respect of the profession and of the public it is vital that every student who leaves this university with that degree carries with him a certain minimum of knowledge of the substantive law of Scotland. It is through his study of the law in its manifold branches that the student gains or should gain his insight into the relationship between law and society and his awareness of how law affects or seeks to regulate human behaviour and how changing human behaviour affects the content and administration of the law.
My views on what any law graduate needs to have learned are not based upon the requirements of the practising profession but quite simply upon what I believe an education in and through the law entails. It is a necessary part of such an education that the student should nave an acquaintance with the content and workings of sufficient branches of the law of this jurisdiction to enable him to appreciate what is meant by a legal system and the areas in which and the means by which the law impinges upon the lives of the lieges. He may never intend to use that knowledge in a professional capacity as a legal adviser. But his presence in a Law Faculty and his candidature for a degree in law give rise to a presumption -- in my view a presumption juris et de jure -- that he wishes to acquire, or at least to be exposed to, that body of specialised knowledge with which lawyers operate and which influences, if it does not always exclusively determine, how they perform their role in society. We do no service to such students if we deprive them of, or purport to protect them from, exposure to that corpus of knowledge.
The greatest service that we who are teachers of law can perform is to expound the law. Of course, we must draw attention to what we conceive to be defects in the law and its administration. Of course, we should point out what we believe to be unfortunate consequences of particular legal rules, statutory provisions and judicial decisions. Of course, we must encourage our students to think critically about the content and administration of the law. But all such activity is valueless -- indeed it is intellectually and academically dishonest -- if it is not founded upon accurate knowledge and understanding of the rules, provisions or decisions commented upon, knowledge and understanding of which are to be gained only through serious and conscientious study of the content of the law.
The full text of the lecture can be found in 1982 Juridical Review 31.
At a time when all grants for the Diploma in Legal Practice course are to be scrapped, I would argue that it is even more important than it was in 1981 (the year when the first ever students were taught in the course -- by me, amongst others) to consider whether a worthwhile and academically respectable LLB degree cannot be offered that would equip the graduate to proceed to in-office professional training without the necessity of an intervening university diploma stage. Just a suggestion.