Darn. I had not intended to write any more blog posts today. But I need to #sumptionsplain something.
I was part of some twitter banter on Thursday night about Lord Sumption's speech to the At a Glance Conference the day before. Whilst this serious-yet-silly exchange serendipitously led to the coining of the phrase "ovaries of steel", and thus has some long term value that will undoubtedly be remembered in years to come - it was on reflection a rather insular and ever-so-slightly-chippy response from a lawyer who has been conditioned over many years to expect men from other areas of law to think it quite acceptable to talk of "proper law" as something quite distinct from family "law". In those all too familiar conversations (usually with someone wearing pinstripes) the use of the term "discretionary" is used in a pejorative way.
Anyway, I've now read the speech rather more thoroughly and I actually think its rather good. I don't actually think the family bar IS insular - but Sumption makes some good points about how there have been a number of notable boo boos where the family bar and judiciary seem to have behaved as if they operate in some slightly different dimension where general legal principles can be distorted or ignored. Damn him, he's right.
Good family lawyers don't fall into such traps, or at any rate don't do so with any greater frequency than practitioners in any other specialism (I am given to understand that these creatures also suffer from human fallibiilty), and I have found that twitter is a great trigger and tool for the sort of cross fertilisation and cross checking that Sumption is quite properly encouraging. Many are the times when a lawyer from another discipline has asked me a question via twitter, or I of them - some genuinely interesting insights and conversations have ensued, often serendipitously, but sometimes deliberately. I actively use contacts in other fields to "check out" issues that I think might have parallels in other areas - both via twitter and in real life.
Of course, the reality is that there is plenty of "proper law" in the field of family, its just that some lawyers break out into a cold sweat at the idea of the uncertainty that comes with a significantly "discretionary" jurisdiction. That's their problem, not ours. And the other reality is that as well as all that law, a family lawyer needs to have not just be a brain on a stick, but also a human being with some pretty nifty practical skills. I doubt that there is really any area of law where you don't need a smidgeon of people skills and an ability to think practically (I'm with Sumption - patents might be an exception, sorry patent lawyers), but I reckon a fair few of our most brainy lawyers would have a panic attack and run away if you sent them to the local magistrates court for a day of private law work with the great unwashed.
However, whilst I'm sure his Lordship is utterly infallible, I am not. I admitted my hastiness had led me into error on twitter earlier (below). Whilst there is a whiff of "not proper law" about this speech, which has rather triggered me in the same way that a flash of unexpected red sock might do, I ought not to have let that distract me from the good sense he speaks (on this occasion).
But now, to my horror, I see that #sumptionsplaining has made Legal Cheek, complete with screenshots of yours truly (of COURSE it has : It's a hashtag involving a Law Lord and David Allen Green AND it contains screenshots of me saying something I wish on reflection I had not. It was inevitable therefore that it would be covered). So I fear my little #ovariesofsteel tweet is insufficient penance...Hence this post.
Ah well. I'm a big girl. My ovaries of steel will not be dented by this moment of rare humility - it seems that I have learnt just a little from his Lordship's #sumptionsplanation after all - you see, we aren't that insular.