Leading legal mind reflects on law and scholarships at LSE

As someone who has served as a former President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the most prestigious legal position in the world – during a distinguished legal career spanning more than five decades, Dame Rosalyn Higgins is well placed to comment on international lawyers of the future.

RosalynHiggins-BalzanPrize2007@PeterMosimann-BalzanPrizeHaving supported PhD candidates in international law since the establishment of the Higgins Scholarships in 2003, Dame Rosalyn believes that LSE’s Law Department is the optimal breeding ground for brilliant minds.

Her own relationship with the School dates back to the 1970s, when she was first appointed as a visiting fellow in the Department of International Relations. Following a chair at the University of Kent, she returned to LSE in 1981 as a Professor of International Law, a post she held for the next 14 years.

“LSE’s Law Department is among the UK’s leading law schools,” Dame Rosalyn explains. “And as such you get the best lecturers and professors. People are not admitted to LSE unless they meet very high standards, and its location is second to none. And there is a willingness to work in an interdisciplinary way – after all, law is not just a series of rules that exist in a vacuum with no relationship to reality. The willingness of LSE to facilitate interdisciplinary seminars, teachings and readings significantly strengthens the Law Department.”

Dame Rosalyn fondly recalls the lively intellectual culture of the School that helped to shape and define her time in LSE’s employ: “They were very happy years for me. At the time there was still this perception that it was a left wing institution. I would say no: it’s simply very engaged in the real world and you’ll find all manner of opinions here. I’ll always recall how Professor Ken Minogue, one of the leading Thatcherite philosophers of the day, would have a monthly debate with Meghnad Desai, who is now a Labour peer. It was always packed – people loved to hear those two very different opinions.”

She was not afraid to participate in such debate, even with the senior leadership of the School. “I had the privilege that my time at LSE coincided with the years in which Lord Dahrendorf was Director – he was a special man, both intellectually and as a friend to individual members of staff. I recall that over lunch we would debate issues such as the Falklands and what should be done – he thought we should let it go while my argument was against appeasing a dictatorship.”

Today Dame Rosalyn’s relationship with LSE is philanthropic. The impetus for establishing the scholarship came as she left the School. “I must give credit where it’s due and acknowledge the contribution of a former student of mine, Dan Sarooshi, who these days has a chair at Oxford and is a QC,” she reveals. “The scholarship was his idea and he was heavily involved in its general administration and organisation.”

Explaining the appeal of Dan’s original idea and supporting PhD candidates in particular, she highlights the need for budding international lawyers to develop a specialism. “It is such a huge area,” she says. “I see it as akin to medicine – you can do the general thing but if you want to practice in any real way you need an area of specialisation. And that really requires study beyond the undergraduate level.”

 “But it costs so much to do a doctorate,” Dame Rosalyn continues. “And so many students simply want to get their foot on the ladder of the bar, so I do what I can to make it that little bit more attractive to stay in study for those extra few years. It doesn‘t matter where they come from – what matters is that they are doing international law at LSE. As I loved my time here it’s only natural for me to want to continue my association.”

Having risen to become Britain’s most senior judge, Dame Rosalyn’s advice to the international lawyers of the future is to strive towards carving out their own intellectual niche. She explains: “I’ve always advised against doing something that a hundred other capable people are doing:  choose something on which, when you are finished, you can legitimately call yourself the pre-eminent voice. For example, after some conversations I eventually persuaded a student of mine to focus on territorial administration and the UN, rather than some other ‘hot topic’ of the day that everyone was writing about – now he’s easily the leading academic voice in that area.”

Dame Rosalyn continues to show an active interest in the hopes, ambitions and aspirations of her Higgins Scholars. “I’ve enjoyed meeting them and discussing where they have come from, how they have arrived at this point, and where they are going – all of that is very interesting to me,” she concludes.