Socio-Legal Studies and the Cultural Practice of Lawyering

  • Hilary Sommerlad
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Socio-Legal Studies book series (PSLS)


There are several strands to the debate over the relationship between law and the social, and the function and value of social scientific understandings of law. Legal realists emphasized the contribution social science could make to the law, legal practice and government administration (Summers, 1988), and policy-oriented, empirical work remains a significant component of socio-legal studies (Genn et al., 2006). Others stress the challenge social theory has posed to law’s ‘technocratic straitjacket’ (Thornton, 2006; 2007; Heydebrand, 1979) and its claimed coherence (Lacey, 1998, e.g. pp. 10¨C11). However, the socio-legal studies project has also been described as incoherent (Friedman, 1986, p. 779), lacking a theoretical underpinning (Hunt, 1981). For Fitzpatrick, its premises ‘are fundamentally unexamined’ and, refuting the general socio-legal presumption that law shapes society, he argues that law ‘renders society possible’ (1995, p. 106). This conceptual confusion may be seen as encapsulated in the hyphen, which Lacey reads as an implicit acceptance of law’s claims ‘that… the social and the legal each constitutes a coherent and relatively discrete entity’ (1998, p. 221), and a significant strand of the debate is grounded in the closed and autonomous character of the legal universe. Here the focus is on law’s capacity to colonize social scientific ideas, transforming them into ‘hybrid artefacts’ (Teubner, 1989, p. 747),1 so that sociological interpretations are viewed as incapable of grasping ‘law’s own criteria of significance’ (Nelken, 1996, pp. 108–9).


Judicial Review Legal Professionalism Legal Practice Relative Autonomy Sociological Interpretation 
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  • Hilary Sommerlad

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