Russell Sandberg is a Professor of Law at Cardiff University, we recently caught up with Russell who shared with us his hopes for the future of the legal industry and the highlights, and challenges he’s faced throughout his legal career.
To discover what a Professor of Law does on an average day read our previously published article.
What are your hopes for the future of the legal industry?
I hope that the legal profession and legal education will place increased emphasis upon the importance of critical thinking – questioning assumptions and possibilities. This is one of the points I make in my new book (Subversive Legal History: A Manifesto for the Future of Legal Education (Routledge, 2021)).
There’s a need for law students and legal professionals to be able to think outside the box and to question everything. We need to be able to see the values and biases that exist and to question them in order to supersede them.
There’s a need to appreciate that different ways of thinking are possible and we don’t simply have to carry on doing the same thing or similar things. This is where the study of legal history is so useful – because it shows that there have been other ways of doing things and so other ways are possible in the future.
“It’s also about paying more attention to the people who have moulded the law.”
It shows that the law is shaped to meet the needs of each generation – and that law reform and legal change can take place on a greater scale than usually believed possible. It also allows you to look at law from different lenses: focusing on gender or race or sexuality or religion, changes the way you see the legal terrain and what changes you then want to achieve.
It’s also about paying more attention to the people who have moulded the law. If you study other disciplines, you are studying the works of people. In law, however, we pay less attention to commentators –we are typically looking for a pithy quote from them on the law.
We often forget that legal textbooks are authored and expect them to give us a truly objective picture of the law. A more critical approach – a subversive approach – would explore the intellectual and social development of the law rather than just presenting it an objective, universal truth.
What has been a highlight of your law profession so far?
It’s difficult to identify a highlight. You don’t realise how big and important something is at the time. You are just concentrating on getting it done. The focus is just not to mess it up! I suppose an early highlight was the publication and launch of my first book. Rather unusually it was a textbook rather than an academic monograph.
At the time in which I was studying for my PhD, the legal framework concerning religion changed around me. New laws protected religion as a human right, prohibited discrimination on grounds of religion and made stirring up religious hatred a criminal offence. So while I was writing the PhD, I was also trying to make sense of this new legal framework.
And many of my early publications were focused on that. My first book basically brought that stuff altogether. It was the first textbook in the field and was published by Cambridge University Press. I received the contract to write the book the day before my PhD viva (the final oral examination) and that really boosted my confidence going into that too.
The launch too was a special day. It was part of the Law and Religion Scholars Network (LARSN) conference that we had established at Cardiff and so lots of friends from the field were there – plus I invited my family. And the then Head of the Law School, Professor Nigel Lowe gave a great speech.
It was a great moment, celebrating everything that had been achieved up to that point. For me, it was better than my law or PhD graduation because the focus was truly on the work.
What challenges have you faced throughout your career?
I’ve been and am extraordinarily lucky to do a job that I love. That said, there has been a significant amount of hard work and graft. There is nothing as scary as a blank sheet of paper! Every time you write something, there are moments of doubt; of panic. Whenever you read something you’ve previously written you always either think it’s terrible or that it has set a standard that you’d never meet again!
The same is true of other parts of the job too – especially when you take new things on, be that new modules to teach or new administrative jobs. You often feel outside your expertise, often thrown in the deep end! It’s a job where there is a great deal of autonomy – you decide what to specialise in, what areas to write on, what to write and for where.
That’s great but can sometimes be terrifying. It sometimes means that it is difficult to separate yourself from your work – this is something I have had to learn over the years. It also means that you are responsible for your own choices and so can be your own toughest critic. There’s no one else to blame!
One thing you would have liked to have known before starting your career?
That’s a tough question – and I’d be concerned about the ‘butterfly effect’: whether knowing that thing would make my life and career go off on a different course than the one I have enjoyed!
If pushed, I suppose that I wish I had grasped the importance of sharing / disseminating research early on.
I was very late to the social media thing and my work would have been more widely read had it been more publicly available early on.