What can the Humanities do for Law?

When I was talking with my fellow students about our choice of modules for the next term a few days ago, we also reviewed about the previous term and whether we liked our modules.

I was far and wide the only one who did not follow the trend of choosing “remunerative” subjects, such as Commercial Law or International Relations. When I told them that I had chosen Law and the Humanities in order to view Law from a very different angle, their reaction was quite sceptical: of what use are the Humanities? How should they help us in our future career as a lawyer? And what are they actually?

My colleagues might be right in the assumption Humanities being seen as a subject, which is constantly being smiled at when it comes to its practical benefit or discussions about whether to include it in legal education, at least in my home country. But in fact, the Humanities are able to help us as lawyers in our way of understanding our profession and the various factors shaping it. Law is subject to constant change and is deeply interconnected with history, philosophy, politics, and language, just to name a few other meaningful disciplines than “pure” law itself, which impact the nature of our daily work. This does not mean one has to know everything about the Corpus Juris Civilis in order to be a good lawyer. Nor does it mean one has to read Kant`s Metaphysics of morals as a necessary requirement in order to be considered as a well-read lawyer. But it can lead to worthwhile knowledge about the very nature of law, where it comes from and why it might be the way it is.

It is not about finding solutions to specific legal issues, but approaching law from a Humanities perspective broads one`s horizon and raises awareness of all the factors, which create our legal systems. This, in turn, enables us to increase our level of empathy and the ability to question legal systems and norms as well as to develop convincing arguments for or against particular legal issues. Law is about humans and it would be fatal, if lawyers only look at legal norms and how to enforce them like machines, without taking the “bigger picture” into account. Although lawyers need to make a decision at the end, it is also crucial to at least reflect about the law as a complex system, with its origins in history, philosophy, and religion in order to act in a considerate and deliberate way.

And this ability, in turn, is essential for being a good lawyer.


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