Friday, 13 September 2013

Being a City lawyer: Jurisprudence

Recently, I was having lunch with some other trainees. Something came up in the course of a pretty normal, non-legal conversation which reminded me of something vaguely jurisprudential – Hart’s primary and secondary laws, Finnis’ central case of law, or something. And so I said as much. And one fellow said “Oh, don’t bring jurisprudence into it”.

Now, I can see that lunch breaks are not always the time to delve too deeply into tricky philosophical riddles. I can see that no one likes to have Rawls quoted at them when they were just trying to decide whether to have a pudding or not. But I was a little worried that just the very mention of legal philosophy was enough to exasperate a colleague.

Is jurisprudence relevant to my day job? Not immediately. Proof reading contracts doesn't need Dworkin (thank goodness), research memos don’t need me to identify rules of recognition. But I like to think that jurisprudence is part of the fundamental grounding of legal practice. To be au fait with some of the theory of the common law, or how and why principles of certainty and fairness should be balanced, or what judges do when they interpret contracts are relevant in a high-level way.

*metaphor alert*

You can probably build an engine with some basic mechanical knowledge. You can understand (and build) it better by knowing more of the physics and chemistry behind it. Equally, any lawyer will know what a contract does, but ought he not think about why they matter, how they’re justified, and what role a court has in them?

Given that jurisprudence might be a ‘silent prologue’[1] to aspects of legal practice,  maybe a lunch break is a good time to give it some air time.

[1] Ronald Dworkin, in "Law's Empire"