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What is the SLS?

The Society of Legal Scholars is a learned society with charitable status whose aim is the advancement of legal education and scholarship in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Society is the learned society for those engaged in law teaching and/or legal scholarship. The Society is legal education’s principal representative body to the professional bodies and the Government. The SLS holds an annual conference each year, usually at the university of the President. In addition the Society organises and/or sponsors seminars and workshops throughout the year. The Society is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales: No. 282719.

The best succinct explanation of the role of the SLS, and the importance of academic law and academic lawyers, remains that put forward by Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, QC, MEP, FBA in May 1993 as follows:

‘The Society of Legal Scholars seeks to advance legal science and legal education, continuing a tradition in which legal studies have been centrally included within university education since its earliest beginnings. Although there have been periods in the past when university education in law became moribund in one place or another, this branch of learning has never been extinguished. Vitality in academic law can be confidently said to characterise most of the many jurisdictions in which members of the SLS are at work. They take pride in their role as representatives of the learned tradition of humane scholarship.

It is common to divide the world of learning between the natural sciences and the human and social sciences. Law occupies a central part in the latter, sharing concerns with historical, literary and philosophical enquiry as well as with politics, economics and social studies. The academic study of law belongs among those branches of study which are essentially interpretive. It concerns interpretation of the legal order of states, of the European Community as a transstatal body and of the international community more generally. The common law as received in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the historically distinctive Scottish legal tradition are fundamental parts of the cultural heritage of the British Isles. In the Commonwealth and the United States, and in civilian jurisdictions, distinctive developments of old traditions are not less foundational culturally. Scholarly enquiry into the law and social scientific study of its operations are everywhere fundamental to an understanding of modern society.

A rounded education in law must always include a sound grounding in the basics of legal doctrine: public law, both constitutional and criminal; private law, concerning obligations, persons and property and at least some elements of commercial law; also some elements of law in its transnational or international settings. It should also include, preferably through special courses dedicated to this, elements of legal history and of the philosophy and sociology of law. More important than the detail of any particular curriculum is the spirit of a legal education defined by: rigour and accuracy in the study and analysis of the texts of the law; understanding of texts in the light of underlying principles and possible theoretical approaches to their construction; critical appreciation of problematic aspects of law; and a readiness to enquire into the contexts in which law operates. Also, there should be a firm awareness of law’s character as a practical discipline; this includes an awareness of legal practice and its requirements, but is not exhausted by that. In the broadest sense it requires a grasp of law as a domain of practical reason.

The fate of constitutionalism and the Rule of Law is nowhere a matter for complacency. Teachers of law protected by a justly defined academic freedom and imbued with a proper sense of professional self-respect and civic responsibility have a special role to play in maintaining critical awareness of the preconditions for law and liberty. The part they play is scarcely less vital than that of an independent judiciary and legal profession.’