National Life Stories: Legal Lives

Photograph of the Royal Courts of Justice. Image courtesy of James Petts, Wikipedia Commons
Royal Courts of Justice. Image courtesy of James Petts/Wikipedia Commons

Legal Lives is an ongoing National Life Stories project which comprises interviews with lawyers, solicitors and barristers with the aim to document changes in the legal profession in Britain.

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Legal Lives

Legal Lives interviewees include Lord Bridge and Peter Goldsmith (former Attorney General of England and Wales), Lady Hale (the first female Law Lord) and barrister Sir Sydney Kentridge QC.

In 2015 Chris Monaghan from the University of Greenwich completed an in-depth scoping study to help shape a major project in this area.

NLS are exploring potential funders and collaborators and would actively welcome interested parties to contact NLS Director Mary Stewart.

All open interviews from the project can be listened to on British Library Sounds. A listing of all the interviews can be found by searching the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue with the collection reference number C736.

Crown Court Clerks Life Story Interviews

‘Exploring the social world of Crown Court clerks from the 1970s onwards’ was a collaborative doctoral research project between National Life Stories and the London School of Economics (LSE) Legal Biography Project that created an archive of life stories of Crown Court clerks.

Though Crown Court clerks play a pivotal role in regional trials of the most serious criminal offences such as murder, rape and burglary, little has been written about them to date. The clerk of the court sits at the bench below the judge and is responsible for ensuring that cases are heard and the court runs smoothly. 

In-depth life story interviews with former Crown Court clerks who worked in courts throughout England and Wales were conducted to gain insight into clerks’ lives, the lived world of the legal system, shifts in local legal cultures and changes in the way that regional justice has been conceived of and experienced.

A key focus of the research was examining the changing nature of the administration of justice during the 1970s. In particular, older and retired court clerks describe the historic shift that occurred when the ancient Assize system that had operated in England and Wales for almost 800 years was abolished and replaced by a new network of Crown Courts.

The research was carried out by PhD student Dvora Liberman, supervised by former NLS director Dr Rob Perks, and co-ordinator of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Professor Linda Mulcahy.

A listing of all the interviews can be found by searching the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue with the collection reference number C1674.

Enhancing Democratic Habits: An Oral History of the Law Centres Movement

Professor Linda Mulcahy and Dr Marie Burton from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford are working closely with National Life Stories on an innovative oral history project on Law Centres, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Over four years the project will produce an in-depth account of the development of Law Centres and radical lawyering in deprived communities through life story interviews with activists. The project will explore the role that Law Centres have played in providing legal services to those in poverty, in mounting local campaigns for social justice and in facilitating active citizenship in disadvantaged areas.

Also partnering in this initiative are Professor Kieran McEvoy and Dr Anna Bryson of Queen's University Belfast, who will be gathering in-depth histories about the Law Centres movement in Northern Ireland. The project was launched in November 2020 and will produce 65 life story interviews that will be incorporated into the British Library Sound Archive. 


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Oral histories of the legal system

Oral history interviews with those involved in the legal and criminal justice system