School of Law

Contact Details

Professor Hilary Sommerlad

Professor of Law and Social Justice

I joined the School of Law in January 2016 from the University of Birmingham where I was Research Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research. I graduated from New Hall, Cambridge with a degree in History, and went on to take a PhD in Political Science from York, and subsequently to qualify and practise as a solicitor I returned to academia to teach Law and develop research in socio-legal studies at Leeds Beckett, Leicester and Birmingham Universities.

I am a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and one of the founders and a member of the executive of the Judicial Diversity Initiative.

I am also a member of the following:

  • Society of Legal Scholars (and in 2008-11 was convenor of the Profession, Practice & Ethics stream)
  • Socio-Legal Studies Association
  • Research Committee for the Sociology of Law (RCSL) International Working Group for Comparative Studies of Legal Professions (and Chair of the sub-group: Legal Professional Values and Identities)
  • International Legal Aid Group

I have held visiting positions at universities and research institutes in the CIS, Canada, the United States and Australia, and in 2014 was Distinguished Visiting Mentor at the Law School, ANU, Canberra.

I am currently a member of the following editorial boards: 

  • Journal of Law and Society
  • International Journal of the Legal Profession
  • The British Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Laws (open access journal)
  • Legal Ethics (where I was Articles Editor 2008-18)

My written output includes five books and published reports, 25 (peer reviewed) articles and 26 book chapters, and more than 1000 citations. I regularly receive invitations to speak at national and international events concerning all aspects of legal professional culture, diversity and the profession and legal aid, and have given more than150 conference presentations. Recent keynotes include: Conferentie VSR Antwerpen: Rechtsociologie in Europa (January 2015);

My work has been translated into Russian, Spanish and Japanese.

I have been consulted by numerous external bodies including Cambridge Econometrics; the Gender Equality Working Group (GEWG) of South Australia; Canadian Bar Association; the Legal Services Board; Ministry of Justice; Low Commission on Legal Aid; Education Leeds;  the EHRC Equally Professional Network’.

Research Interests

Legal professional culture, including the impact of macro level change such as understandings of citizenship and the increasing diversity of people doing law work.

I have completed research projects for a range of external funders including the Law Society; Legal Ombudsman; the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission; MOJ; the Nuffield Foundation and the Ford Foundation, on topics including women lawyers; legal aid and diversity in the profession.

I am currently editing, with Professors Rick Abel (UCLA), Ulrike Schultz (Hagen) and Ole Hammerslev (University of Southern Denmark), a major international study of Lawyers in Society (Hart 2019), which the US Law & Society Association has granted the status of an International Research Collaborative.


In recent years I have taught the following:

  • Criminal Law
  • Regulation of the Legal Profession (Module Leader)
  • Socio-Legal Theory (LLM)
  • Socio-Legal Research Methods (LLM)
  • Legal Pluralism

PhD Supervision

PhDs supervised to successful completion include the following:

  • The Role of Human Rights in a Counter-Hegemonic Political Project
  • A Study Of The Black Accounting Experience in the U.K
  • Law, Jurisprudence, Justice: a Critical Race Feminist Perspective
  • In search of legitimacy: an examination of problematic issues in contemporary public relations

I am currently supervising Matt Tidmarsh: “Privatising Probation: A Live Account of the ‘Through the Gate’ Process From the Prison into the Community"

I welcome the opportunity to supervise students in the broad areas of:

  • The legal profession and legal professionalism
  • Diversity and the legal profession
  • Access to justice and citizenship: national and international perspectives

Key Publications


(with Sherr, A; Moorhead, R) Legal Education at the Crossroads 2017 (Taylor and Francis)

(with Ashley, L; Duberley, J)  A qualitative evaluation of non-educational barriers to the elite professions 2015 (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, London)

(with Harris-Short, L; Vaughan, S & Young, R.) The Futures of Legal Education and the Legal Profession 2014 (Oxford, Hart Publishers)

(with Webley, L; Muzio, D; Tomlinson, J and Duff, L) Diversity in the legal profession in England and Wales: a qualitative study of barriers and individual choices 2013 (London, University of Westminster Law Press)

(with Sanderson, P.)  Gender, Choice and Commitment: Women Solicitors and the struggle for equal status 1998 (Aldershot, Dartmouth)


"Social Justice and Law" in Craig, C (ed) Handbook on Social Justice Edward Elgar Publishing 2018

(with Ashley, L.) “The implications for gender of work in professional service firms” in M. Saks & D. Muzio (eds) Professions and Professional Service Firms: Private and Public Sector Enterprises in the Global Economy Routledge, 2018

“Judicial Diversity: Continuity and Change” in G. Gee & E. Rackley Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity, Routledge 2017

"The new 'professionalism' in England and Wales: talent, diversity, and a legal precariatin S. Headworth; R. Nelson; R. Dinovitzer & D. Wilkins (eds) Rhetoric and Reality  2016 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

(with Webley, L.,Tomlinson, J., & Muzio, D.) ‘Access to a Career in the Legal Profession in England and Wales: “Race”, Class and the Role of Educational Background’ in S. Headworth; R. Nelson; R. Dinovitzer & D. Wilkins (eds) Rhetoric and Reality  2016 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

 “Access to Justice in hard times and the deconstruction of democratic citizenship” in M. Maclean, J. Eekelaar & B. Bastard (eds) Delivering Family Justice in Delivering Family Justice in the 21st Century 2015 (Oxford, Hart Publishing)

"Let History judge? Gender, race, class and performative identity: a study of women judges in England and Wales" in Schultz, U & Shaw, G (eds) Gender and Judging 2013 (Oxford, Hart Publishing)

"Socio-legal studies and the cultural practice of lawyering" in D. Feenan (ed) Exploring the ‘socio’: socio-legal studies 2013 (Palgrave Macmillan)


“Lawyers, legal education and nation building: lessons from Lawyers’ EmpireInternational Journal of the Legal Profession”, Special Issue, 2016,

"A pit to put women in”: professionalism, work intensification, sexualisation and work–life balance in the legal profession in England and Wales, International Journal of the Legal Profession, 2016,  23 (1), pp.  61-82

“Developments in socio-legal studies: subjects and methodologies- the Anglo-Saxon model” Recht der Werkelijkheid 2015, 36 (1): 55-77

“The ‘social magic’ of merit: diversity, equity and inclusion in the English and Welsh Legal Profession” Fordham Law Review (2015) 83: pp. 2325 -2347

“The Ethics of Relational Jurisprudence” Gender, Care, Law and the Profession, 2014 Legal Ethics Special Issue 17 (2)

“Diversity, Merit and the English judiciary: the lessons that can be learned from the reform of selection processes, a UK contribution” (December 2013), 40 FORDHAM URB. L.J. CITY SQUARE 94 http://www. : 94-107

(with P. Sanderson) ‘Social justice on the margins: the future of the not for profit sector as providers of legal advice in England and Wales' 2013 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 35 (3): 305-327

(with J. Tomlinson, D. Muzio, L. Webley & L. Duff) ‘Structure, agency and career strategies of women and Black and Minority Ethnic  individuals in the legal profession’ 2013 Human Relations (

"Minorities, Merit, and Misrecognition in the Globalized Profession", 2012 Fordham Law Review 80: 2482-2512

"The commercialisation of law and the enterprising legal practitioner: continuity and change" 2011 International Journal of the Legal Profession, 18 (1-2): 73-108

(with Francis, A) "Access to legal work experience and its role in the (re)production of legal professional identity", 2009 International Journal of the Legal Profession 16 (1): 63-86

"Reflections on the reconfiguration of Access to Justice", 2008 International Journal of the Legal Profession, 15 (3): 179-93

"Researching and theorizing the processes of professional identity formation", 2007 Journal of Law & Society, 34 (2): 190-217


  • "Professions and Ethnicity" in J. Stone; R. Dennis; P. Rizovs; Smith, A & Xiaoshuo, H (eds)The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism Wiley-Blackwell 2015
  • (with Graham, C; Lennard, L) "Mapping potential consumer confusion in a changing legal market - report for the Legal Ombudsman",Centre for Consumers and Essential Services, University of Leicester 2011
  • "Some Reflections on the Amorality of the Market: Correspondent’s Report from the United Kingdom" Legal Ethics, 13, Part 1, 2010, pp 93-96
  • "The Legal Profession, Definition and Special Characteristics of" in J. O’Conaghan & P. Cane (eds) New Oxford Dictionary of Law, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • "Problems in the transition to capitalism in the context of underdevelopment: Peru and the War of the Pacific", Unpublished PhD, University of York, 1983

Media Contact Areas

I am happy to be contacted on any matters related to diversity in the legal profession and access to justice.

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