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LIV President's Blog 2014

LIV President's Blog 2014

Geoff Bowyer, LIV President 2014 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Seven heroes of the legal profession

Seven heroes of the legal profession

I’ve been speaking with young lawyers a lot lately, and the discussion seems to always turn to ‘why the law?” For me it wasn’t the promise of wealth, power and glory (does that ever work?) but the inspiration of some of the great heroes of law who demonstrated to me that the law was a noble profession that could change the world.

At risk of controversy, here are my top seven heroes that inspired me to study the law:




  1. Thomas More – Famously portrayed as a tragic hero in “A Man for All Seasons”. Thomas More advocated for the preservation (and adherence by the crown) of the rule of law, which he considered to be a critical element for a just and fair society. Lawyer, Lord Chancellor of England, and author of Utopia (a must read for all lawyers), the innovative More imagined a world where the law truly provided ‘justice for all’.  
  2. Lord Denning – Widely regarded as the ‘people’s judge’, Lord Denning was known for his bold and influential judgments which often appeared to ignore legal precedent. Regarded by many as the greatest judge in our history, he heavily influenced the law of negligence and contract, which resulted in significant legislative consumer reform. He stood out to me as a lion amongst conservative lambs in the English judiciary.
  3. Sir Owen Dixon - The sixth Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Owen Dixon is considered internationally as Australia’s greatest jurist, black letter lawyer and a leader in the English speaking legal world - and a Melbournian to boot!  Dixon’s 35 years as Chief Justice was, in Denning’s view, the ‘golden age’ of the High Court. He just wowed me with his use of the English language and pristine logic.
  4. Nelson Mandela – There are few lawyers that have been so clearly prepared to lose their life and liberty in the pursuit of justice as this absolute trail blazer. Mandela successfully used his legal training to agitate for change in the African National Congress and later (after 27 years in prison) to negotiate with President F. W. De Klerk to ultimately bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa. Now here’s a lawyer that made a profound and inspiring difference.
  5. Senator Robert Kennedy – As a child in the 60s, I watched with awe as this government lawyer brought about unparalleled reform in developing and ensuring the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He showed me the ability that lawyers have to profoundly and positively affect better social outcomes in our society. While we may not all have the same impact of RFK, as he once said, "Each of us can work to change a small portion of events".
  6. Justice Michael Kirby – Australia’s longest serving judge and known around the LIV as a “legal rock star”, Kirby was a powerful dissenting voice which, in the High Court, led to many profound changes in the law. His ability to ‘contemporize’ the century old constitution into a ‘living constitution’ (Aileen Kavanagh, “The Ideas of a Living Constitution”) breathed new life into the importance of our Federation and our hope for its role in shaping our nation’s future.
  7. Justice Lionel Murphy – A leading lawyer, politician and High Court Judge, Justice Murphy advocated for and introduced many legal reforms including the Family Court Act; the introduction of Legal Aid and the establishment of the Australian Law Reform Commission. A powerful intellect and a big personality, his work is still influencing our society today and shouldn’t be diminished by the controversies of his political career.

OK, so now you know what and who inspired me, but I’d love to hear from you - who, what or how did any influential lawyer make you become a lawyer and sustain you in your pursuit of the law?

Of course, your hero could help you win a year of PLT via the LIV Leading Quill Scholarship competition. Just write a short essay on “Who was, or is, the greatest legal mind of the 20th or 21st century and why?”

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Geoff Bowyer
Great contribution Paul, thanks for sharing.
22/08/2014 7:48:31 PM

Robert Gray
Great post Geoff. Agree with your list. Additionally, off the top of my scone I'd say Clarence Darrow, Abraham Lincoln, Fidel Castro, Julian Burnside QC and Robert Richter QC. If I may add one from fictional history, Atticus Finch.
22/08/2014 5:21:49 PM

Paul Mangopoulos
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is for me one of the most influential American jurists. He served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States January–February 1930. Profoundly influenced by his experience fighting in the American Civil War, Holmes helped move American legal thinking towards legal realism, as summed up in his maxim: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. In his book The Common Law Holmes set forth his view that the only source of law, properly speaking, was a judicial decision enforced by the state. Judges decided cases on the facts, and then wrote opinions afterward presenting a rationale for their decision. The true basis of the decision was often an "inarticulate major premise," however. A judge was obliged to choose between contending legal arguments, each posed in absolute terms, and the true basis of his decision was sometimes drawn from outside the law, when precedents were lacking or were evenly divided. He also published an address he made to students at Harvard Law School, "The Path of the Law," in which he enlarged upon his view of the law from the perspective of a practitioner concerned for the interests of his client, who might be a bad man unconcerned with moral absolutes.
22/08/2014 4:37:39 PM

Government Lawyer
Some local heroes - Justice Marcia Neave and Ron McCallum.
21/08/2014 5:54:37 PM

Geoff Bowyer
True Deb, I agree. Glad that many current day women lawyers will inspire our future generations eg. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren.
21/08/2014 4:23:14 PM

Deborah Polites
My first thought was - great list, all inspiring men. My second thought - all men. My third thought - historically in particular, when one thinks of women of a similar calibre they don't tend to be qualified lawyers. E.g. Queen Elizabeth I , Emmeline Pankhurst .... I guess in order to use the legal profession as an influencer one must first be treated as an equal by the law. So things are now starting to improve: Hillary Rodham Clinton (though her carreer was not in law), Ruth Ginsbourg, Mary Robinson...
21/08/2014 3:56:18 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks Binay, I agree he is great hero of the law - it was a photo finish between him and Nelson Mandela for my list!
21/08/2014 3:46:12 PM

Binay Prasad
I would add Mahatma Gandhi to that list. It took a lot of guts to fight the might of the British Empire.
21/08/2014 1:14:17 PM

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