Professor Hilary Sommerlad

Professor Hilary Sommerlad


I am Professor of Law and Social Justice at the School of Law, University of Leeds, with a particular commitment to exploring the potential for legal professions internationally to promote access to justice. My other interests are in continuity and change in the profession, particularly in terms of the representation of women and minorities, legal aid and the profession’s work with marginal groups, and the impact of neo-liberalism and the role of the State on the profession internationally.

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 a founder and executive member of the Judicial Diversity Initiative.

I also belong to the following groups of distinguished international scholars and lawyers:

  • Society of Legal Scholars (and 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 of the International Sociological Association (and Chair of the sub-group: Legal Professional Values and Identities)
  • International Legal Aid Group
  • Law & Society Association International Research Collaborative: Lawyers and state transformation

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 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 than 200 conference presentations, and keynotes (eg Propel Inaugural Conference, University of Stirling 2012;  Conferentie VSR: Rechtsociologie in Europa, Antwerp 2015; Equality and Diversity Unit, Law Society, London 2016; Annual Meeting of the Irish Association of Law Teachers, Ireland 2017SLS Practice, Professions & Ethics Section Annual Conference, Durham 2021). In 2019 I was invited to four universities in China to lecture on the changing nature of the legal profession in England and Wales and globally.  I have led and participated in major research projects for, amongst other bodies, the Ministry of Justice; The Law Society; The Legal Services Board; The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, and the Legal Ombudsman. I review proposals for research councils and third sector bodies and I am an Expert member of FWO (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek) Review College, Brussels.  I have been a member of numerous working parties and steering groups (e.g Brexit, Immigration, and Administrative Justice, the Public Law Project, 2018).  I currently sit on  the Advisory Group Levelling up the Equality Act: making social class a protected characteristic (Weil, Gotshal & Manges London LLP (April 2021-) and Framework law in the welfare state: The role of law in professional discretion in social cases (FRAMLAW) Southern University, Denmark, 2021.

I peer review articles for over 30 international journals and book proposals for publishers, and 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)

I have developed training materials for the West Yorkshire Investment Plan for Diversity in the Economy and 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’ and the Ministry of Justice.


  • Co-Director, Legal Professions Research Group

Research interests

My research concerns key (linked) aspects of the wide-ranging developments that have transformed the profession over the last four decades, including changes in the relation between the profession and the State, and in its organizational form and the legal labour market, particularly as these have affected new entrants to the profession, namely women, people from lower socio-economic groups and black and minority ethnic lawyers. An element of these changes which has impacted on  the nature of citizenship and democratic norms has been the narrowing of access to justice, and I have worked extensively on this topic, focusing on the experience of legally-aided lawyers and their clients. The scope of my body of work is reflected in the disciplines with which it engages, which include law, sociology, history, politics and anthropology;  this interdisciplinarity is reflected in the range of PhD topics I have externally examined, which include access to justice; asylum law; social class and careers in the architects’ profession; the impact of film and television on perceptions of law and justice; Critical Race Theory; the transformation of China’s legal profession and its representation in the media.

My written output includes nine books and published reports, 29 (peer reviewed) articles and 31 book chapters, with more than 1600 citations. My work has been translated into Russian, Spanish and Japanese. 

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

I have edited, with Professors Rick Abel (UCLA), Ulrike Schultz (Hagen) and Ole Hammerslev (University of Southern Denmark), a major international study of Lawyers in Society, which the US Law & Society Association granted the status of an International Research Collaborative. This gave rise to a two volume collection involving nearly 100 distinguished contributors from around the globe (Hart 2020; Hart 2022).

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • BA (Hons) History, Cambridge University
  • PGCE, Leeds University (Distinction)
  • PhD Politics, York University
  • Common Professional Examination (Distinction) Leeds Polytechnic
  • Law Society Finals

Professional memberships

  • Society of Legal Scholars
  • International Sociological Association Research Committee on Sociology of Law (RCSL)
  • RCSL International Working Group for Comparative Studies of Legal Professions, and Chair of sub-group: Legal Professional Values and Identities
  • International Legal Aid Group
  • Judicial Diversity Initiative

Student education

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
  • Law and Society

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Innovation and Research in Legal Education
  • Centre for Law and Social Justice