Law has always been an integral part of LSE where it has been pioneered as an academic subject and a branch of the social sciences.
Many important aspects of law were first taught and examined systematically from an academic perspective at the School. These include banking law, taxation law, civil litigation, company law, labour law, family law, aspects of welfare law, and studies of the legal system and the legal profession. These subjects, and many others, have since become central to the concerns of lawyers and researchers.
Harold Cooke Gutteridge was the first incumbent of the Cassel Chair of Commercial and Industrial Law in 1919, and was succeeded by Theo Chorley who became a key figure in the promotion of social reform and progressive causes, both within and outside the legal profession. Throughout his life he advocated a closer relationship between practitioners and academics that eventually inspired a complete overhaul of the English system of legal education.
It was in the 1930s and 1940s, influenced by Chorley and then by exiled Jewish lawyers from Germany, notably Otto Kahn-Freund, that the School's Law Department acquired its distinctive character as one where lawyers were not ashamed to describe themselves as social scientists.
Chorley and other LSE members were prominent among the founders of the Modern Law Review, established in 1937 as an academic forum for the critical examination of contemporary legal issues. The British legal establishment often saw the journal as a threat to institutional order, regarding its reformist nature and discussion of wider social issues as subversive. Despite this, the journal quickly achieved an international and influential role at the forefront of legal scholarship.
In 1950, the Review published Jim Gower's inaugural lecture at LSE on the subject of English legal education in which he mounted an unprecedented attack on almost every aspect of the subject and called for an outside inquiry. He identified defects in the system of training and called for a requirement that every solicitor and barrister should take a university law degree. This was accompanied by a call for a less deferential approach towards judges' decisions. It contributed greatly to the movement towards an all-graduate profession, a general expansion in university legal education and major reforms in the legal profession.
In recent decades, the Law Department has emphasised the importance of post-graduate legal studies such as the LLM as a way to promote deeper knowledge of every aspect of the law. Matching the increasingly international origins of both staff and students and responding to the challenges of globalisation, the post-graduate programmes have emphasised the importance of international law, financial markets, international trade, non-state adjudication and transnational law. Most of this teaching and the research that lies behind it continues to embrace the interdisciplinary, social sciences approach to legal studies, as for example in the joint masters degrees in Anthropology and Accountancy and Law.
The department continues to play a major role in policy debates and policy-making and in the education of lawyers and law teachers from around the world, and has deeply influenced legal education in most common law countries.
See Academic Departments and Research Centres indexes.