A traditional song during December involves twelve lords a-leaping, five gold rings and a partridge in a pear tree. In contrast, in April 2017, the focus was on was fourteen people speaking, thirteen papers being presented and a new stream in a lecture room in Newcastle. In other words, last year’s annual SLSA conference marked the introduction of a new law and emotion stream marking just how far law and emotion scholarship has begun to develop within the UK and beyond.
Topics in the 2017 stream ranged from sexual orientation and gender identity refugee claims to domestic abuse, from premenstrual dysphoric disorder as a possible legal defence to questions of objectivity within law via questions of community belonging. Such breadth is perhaps not surprising, given the ways in which emotions permeate every aspect of life and law. However, it was noticeable that a significant proportion of papers focused on the role of emotion within the judiciary and the legal profession. This was particularly interesting given that these bodies have traditionally represented forms of rationality and reasoning which do not easily admit, or encourage examination of, emotion and affect.
It was clear from the papers on this topic that there is increasing academic interest in intersections between legal practice and emotion. Focuses included client-solicitor interactions, judicial disgust, emotion management, clinical legal education and the notion of emotional intelligence as a form of legal competency. There was also reference to wellbeing, most notably in relation to immigration and asylum practitioners. To some extent, this seems to reflect a shift in the legal literature and in the focus of legal employees towards an emphasis on the wellbeing of individual practitioners and the ways in which so-called “soft skills”, such as emotional intelligence, can be used to aid client care and retention. This is often portrayed as an antidote to the threat of technology and its impact on the delivery of legal services.
Such a shift in attention is not without dangers, notably the way in which it often still constructs emotional aspects of practice as separate from the “real” business of law or seeks to manipulate them as marketing tools. The focus of many wellbeing initiatives on individuals, rather than tackling the cultural issues involved, is also difficult. However, for academic researchers, it opens up many possibilities by allowing them to contribute to these types of debates and discussions and creating a more receptive climate where research impact may be possible. In particular, there are new paradigms in legal practice emerging (not least that of ) which offer new and exciting intersections of law and emotion to be explored.
Looking forward to next year’s law and emotion stream, the signs are that once again it will be varied and diverse. As co-convenors, John and myself welcome this and hope presentations will encompass a range of theoretical, empirical and exploratory work. We have particularly sought to encourage discussions that include aspects of wellbeing. Indeed, it would be interesting to consider the emotions involved within socio-legal research itself in more detail. How does this impact on emotional wellbeing? Can we safeguard the emotional health of participants?
Moving on, perhaps in 2018, perhaps more in the future as the field develops, we are also hoping for more engagement with the theory underlying intersections between law and emotion in more general terms. Is it possible, or desirable, to have a “grand theory” of law and emotion? What could and should its philosophical and jurisprudential bases be? These are not easy or simple questions to tackle, but law and emotion as a field has never been afraid to challenge and question conventional norms, and long may this continue! Why not come and join us in 2018 in debating and discussing these issues and learning from the fantastic scholars already working in this area? We cannot promise four calling birds or five gold rings, but there still remains much to discover in this field.
The SLSA’s law and emotion stream will be running throughout the 2018 annual conference. The is currently open. The co-convenors ( and ) are also developing a network of law and emotion scholars. To be on the mailing list for this, or for informal discussion of a proposed paper, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org)