Author Archives: coghlani

Trailblazers in Law: Forging a Path for Women

This year, the theme of Oxford Open Doors is extraordinary people.  At The Law Library, we have decided to take this opportunity to share some stories with you about the trailblazing women who fought for women’s status in the law profession. It is a small – but we believe important –  supplement to the Women’s Suffrage in the UK our Official Papers colleagues are showing in the Law Library during Oxford Open Doors, as well as the Weston Library’s Sappho to Suffrage exhibition. (This last is open to the public until February 2019).


Even in the Bible, women were involved in the law. Take Deborah who was not only a wife but a prophet and a judge as well. Talk about a triple burden! Yet up until relatively recently, the English legal establishment did not readily admit women to the legal profession. In fact the initial women to study Law here at Oxford, weren’t even able to graduate.  It wasn’t until October 1920 that women were actually allowed to be initiated as members of the university…although before this they were kindly allowed to pay fees.  Obviously many women made a huge difference in the status of women within the legal profession. We have chosen just a few in order to show you the extraordinary people who studied Law here and how they changed the profession.


Picture from Somerville College Archives

The first woman to study law at Oxford was Cornelia Sorabji in 1890[1].  She was born in India and was the first woman to graduate from Bombay University. After graduating, Cornelia was unable to qualify for a scholarship from the Indian Government to study abroad. The reason? Simple. She was a woman. Cornelia didn’t give up though and appealed for funds to allow her to study. She earned many supporters including, Florence Nightingale.

Cornelia wrote about her experiences in Oxford, seeming to truly revel in them but, there is an undercurrent of frustration at having to continually fight for her place. In 1892 Cornelia was the very first woman to take the Bachelor of Civil Laws exam.  Though most people spent five years preparing for this exam, Cornelia spent only two. Still, she was devastated to receive a third. Her personal letters reveal that her supporters remained proud of her and encouraged her to keep going.  Her friend and tutor Jowett spoke to the examiners who confirmed she had ‘curious powers of assimilation and a wonderful memory for case law’[2].

Eventually Cornelia returned to India. She was basically unable to practice law there. However, she saw that there was a genuine need within Indian society for a woman who was well versed in law.  She took up the cause of the purdahnashins. These were secluded women who were forbidden from interacting with men. Since all the lawyers were men, these women had no access to legal help, making them incredibly vulnerable.  Cornelia finally saw a place where her skills were urgently required. She became legal adviser to the British Government on the state of secluded women and during the next twenty years, she helped over 600 women and orphans[3].

Cornelia was eventually recognised as a lawyer in 1924, 34 years after taking her law exam! Despite the fact she was constantly told that her gender would and should prevent her from achieving her legal aspirations. Cornelia defied this to the very end, carving a place for herself in the legal world.

From St Hugh’s College Archive


Gwyneth Bebb is our next trailblazer. In 1911, she was the first woman to achieve first class honours in her final law examinations.  During this time period there was a movement to allow women into the solicitor’s profession. Gwyneth and three other women sent applications to take The Law Society’s preliminary examinations. They were all refused. Gwyneth and her associates brought actions against The Law Society. Their argument hinged on the fact they were ‘persons’ according to the Solicitor’s Act 1843.

They lost the case.  The reasons cited were that women have never been solicitors and therefore it was parliament who must decide. The judge, Cozens-Hardy could only provide one legal source that actively excluded women. This relied on Edward Coke,  appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1606 then in 1613 Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (so hugely influential), who approvingly referenced a 14th Century law textbook which stated:


“Fems ne poient estre attorneyes”


If you were a fan of our last blog post, this is a good chance to practice your law French… but for those who still need a little help, it says that women cannot be attorneys. The judge relied on this secondary source, The Mirror of Justices,  even though today it is less venerated simply because of its antiquity than it was in Coke’s times. Despite admitting that Gwyneth in particular was ‘probably, far better than many…candidates’ the judge ruled that her intelligence and abilities had no bearing. She was a woman and therefore ineligible[4].

It would be easy to think that Gwyneth therefore was not a trailblazer. She lost. She never practised law.  But you’d be wrong. As shown below, the media surrounding this case was intense.

Photo from:

The Daily Sketch, 11th December 1913, covering the appeal of Bebb v The Law Society. Picture from: Accessed 21 August 2018

On the 25th January 1913, The Express wrote, “If a woman can take a first class in law at Oxford, what right has the Law Society to prevent her from earning her living as a solicitor?”[5] Gwyneth brought the absurdity and injustice of the situation to the public eye.  In 1919, parliament passed the Sex Disqualification (Removal Act). Women could no longer be excluded from a profession based on gender. Cases such as Bebb’s were instrumental in reflecting and influencing the changing public opinion about the place of women in the workforce.

A few years after this act Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English Bar and only a year later was the first woman be awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Law in Oxford.

Ivy was another who was frustrated by women being forbidden to join the bar. She was frequently warned that ‘women would not succeed at the Bar because of the smallness of their voices and the prejudice of solicitors’.[6]  

Photo from St. Anne’s Archive

She was convinced that it would occur. As far back as 1904 she had stated that,

‘The legal profession will have to admit us in their own defence … a band of lady University lawyers will say to the Benchers and the Law Society   ‘Admit us or we shall form a third branch of the profession and practice as outside lawyers’’[7]. The Law Journal saw this as a threat and a pretty empty one at that. Ivy finally joined the Inner Temple as a student in 1920 after the Sex Disqualification (Removal Act).

She described her appointment as ‘the dream of her life’[8]. Even in this moment she thought of furthering her cause by not only thanking the benchers but asking them to support the women who were sure to follow her. A petty person might have enjoyed The Law Journal’s swerve when they described Ivy’s call to the bar as ‘one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession’.  Sadly even this statement was qualified by adding that the day “was never likely to be justified by any success they [women] will achieve in the field of advocacy.” Urgh!

Still none of this slowed Ivy down. Ivy taught law at Oxford making her the first woman to teach English law at an English university. She published The Swiss Civil Code: English Version, with Notes and Vocabulary which was well received by the Swiss federal authorities. In 1930 she was a delegate to The Hague conference for the Codification of International Law and in 1932 she was a member of the Aliens Deportation Advisory Committee. When she started to lose her eyesight, she learned Braille and then worked to help others learn it, prompting Miss Ruth Butler, former vice-principal of the Society of Oxford Home Students, to state in her obituary, that “She turned her necessity to glorious gain”, using in old age for the service of others her powers and enthusiasm which had won her distinction in her youth’.

I think we can definitely consider her trail well and truly blazed.


Photo from St Anne’s Archives

So I bet after all these female firsts you’re starting to wonder, ‘who was the first woman to work at the law faculty?’ That honour went to Elizabeth Ely. She read Law at St. Anne’s, won the Winter Williams scholarship (founded by Ivy Williams herself) and received a first. After taking the BCL at Oxford and the LL.M at Yale, she returned to St. Anne’s as a research fellow and elected fellow in 1958. She played a crucial role in helping St Anne’s get full collegiate status by redrafting the statutes to make them align with the statutes from the other four woman’s colleges. Sadly it’s hard to find much further detail on Elizabeth although St. Anne’s do say that ‘Her lively and charismatic personality left a strong impression on all who knew her[9].’ Despite a lack of detailed stories, we know she tutored many students between 1920 and 1945 and became a C.U.F lecturer in 1957 allowing her to contribute to the future of law, not only by being an example of a women succeeding but also by passing on the knowledge she had acquired to the next generation.




Photo from St. Hugh’s College Archive

My last trailblazer is Ann Smart. Ann read Jurisprudence at St. Anne’s and graduated with a first. She was another winner of the Winter Williams scholarship. Ann was the first woman lecturer at Magdalen and the first law fellow appointed at St. Hugh’s. She went on to found the College Law Society with Edward Burn and Derek Wood. As the Faculty Representative for the Bodleian Law Library she was able to further influence the teaching of law here. She also created the second law fellowship at St. Hugh’s, now called the Ann Smart fellowship. Since Ann was the second woman to gain a double first in both her undergrad and her BCL, it might be unsurprisingly that she went on to do so much and garner such respect. What is pleasantly surprising is how much energy she pumped into helping the next generation of lawyers. Like Ivy, with her scholarship, like Elizabeth, with her teaching and with her own commitment to the law School of St. Hugh’s which she has built from scratch, Ann has helped provide a strong environment for students to receive their education in law[10].


So since we had all these trail blazers working on it for years, the path for women must be perfectly clear, right? It’s a bit of a mix, to be honest. If you look at statistics women now make up 48% of lawyers in law firms. That’s basically half. Job done!

Unfortunately as we move to senior levels the numbers change a bit. In 2017 women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners. It’s only fair to note this is actually an increase, albeit a small one, from the figures in 2014[11].

So how can we try and even this out? First of all there are organisations such as Oxford Women in Law (OWL), a network to allow graduates from Oxford to meet, share experiences and discuss career issues. They hold workshops, invite guest speakers and try to provide a supportive environment.



Also our final lawyer from our display, Christina Blacklaws has recently been inaugurated as the 174th president of the Law Society of England and Wales. She is the first woman from Oxford to achieve this honour. One of the main aspects she wants to focus on is gender equality. She has therefore launched a how-to guide for round tables investigating gender inequality, of which more than 100 will be held nationally and internationally, with the results of the research scheduled for publication in spring 2019.



These movements towards gender equality are encouraging. Recent news such as the appointment of a third female justice to the UK Supreme Court in June of this year reminds us that things are definitely moving in the right direction, even if things are still not equal. Cruickshank felt we might feel ‘we have achieved true equality when we no longer note when a woman lawyer is the first to’ do something[12]. I think even this might be a step away from true equality. It is great that Christina Blacklaws is president of the Law Society. However, every report of this I have found has highlighted that she is only the fifth woman to hold the post (most of them within the first sentence). Perhaps when people don’t feel it’s worth commenting whether the lawyer is male or female we can all feel equal. Until then, these statements of female success show us how far women have come. (Just think back to how lawyers considered it simpler to say women didn’t qualify as ‘people’  rather than to admit them to the bar!). But, perhaps more importantly, they also show there is always room for more trailblazers of all genders.


Have we missed anyone out? Are there any female lawyers with an Oxford connection that you think we should have mentioned? Or have you personal stories that you would like to share about women in the law profession who have inspired you? Please do let us know in the comments or via twitter.


[1] Joe Sommerlad, ‘How a Determined Young Woman Smashed Glass Ceilings to Become India’s First Female Lawyer’ (The Independent, 2017) <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[2] (Opening doors, Paragraph 12.129)

[3]   Jovita Aranha, ‘Here’s How India’s First Woman Lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji Opened Law For Women In 1924!’ (The Better India, 2017) <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[4] Jocelynne A Scutt, Women And Magna Carta (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).

[5] ‘Gwyneth Bebb | First 100 Years’ ( <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[6]Hilary Heilbron, ‘Women At The Bar: An Historical Perspective | Counsel’ ( <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[7] ‘Dr. Ivy Williams’ ( <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[8] ‘Ivy Williams | First 100 Years’ ( <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[9]‘St Anne’s College, Oxford > About The College > Elizabeth Ely’ ( <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[10]‘Ann Smart; Influential Law Tutor At Oxford Who Was The First Woman Lecturer At Magdalen And Who Later Taught At St Hugh’s For 23 Years’ (2010) April 1 The Times.

[11] ‘How Diverse Are Law Firms?’ (, 2017) <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[12] Elizabeth Cruickshank, Women In The Law (Law Society 2003).

Law French – When Law and Language Collide

I can guess what you thought when you looked at today’s date! Ah 31st May, the anniversary of the execution of Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria.  No? Okay, fair enough. However back in 1076 this date was taken as the end of the Revolt of the Earls.  It was arguably the end of Anglo-Saxon Britain.  As many of you already know in 1066, after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror became the first Norman King.  So why am I giving you a history lesson when we’re here to talk about Law?

After 1066 French became the language of the elite. During the reign of Edward I the first statute was written in French and Law was professionalised[1]. This led to the development of a weird little dialect called law French.

As you can see from the image below law French is a bizarre mix of French, Latin, Anglo-Saxon and whatever other languages happened to be hanging around.

I told you it was weird! Were you able to understand it? Here’s the translation. See how you did.

         (Extracts taken from Casus Placitorum, reprinted by the Seldon Society in 1952.)


Continental French was originally being used in courts but during the reign of Henry III and Edward I Anglo-French was used to create an entirely new legal vocabulary ‘giving special meanings to ordinary words’[2] This meant Anglo French quickly began to break away from continental French. We can still see evidence of this today. For example tort in English is ‘A wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to legal liability’.[3] Tort in French simply means wrong.   The translation of the English tort is acte délictuel.[4]

Law French was so separate that a French person living in England during the time of Elizabeth I referred to it as a house that was so ruined you could barely tell there had ever been a house there at all.[5]

I assume he wasn’t exactly a fan…




Despite the French seeing their language as having been corrupted beyond recognition, law French enjoyed a respectable status in its British home. Ironically the British were proud of their law French as being in some way being both a symptom of and a contributor to their Englishness. Maitland[6] argues that this isn’t as much of a paradox as it initially seems. He puts forth that because English lawyers had created a ‘highly technical’ vocabulary, their dialect was ‘tough and impervious to foreign influence’. He believed the strength of the language was in its artificiality and how it was designed for its purpose. He seems to think creating a new dialect was easier and better than using what already existed in Continental French. Feels a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?

Due to the above reasons, law French soon became well regarded. Despite this, in 1362 Parliament introduced a statute stating that French was ‘trop desconue’[7] to be used in courts.  I think it’s quite easy to see how little hope they had when the statute itself was produced in law French.

However, the statute did create some change.  The oral pleading of the court now took place in English yet, the case reports were always produced in law French[8].  This meant that Scriveners were effectively translating the spoken words. Baker argues this was a time-saver as it was effectively a shorthand ‘made and adapted for legal purposes’[9].  He does not seem to think there was an issue with this way of proceeding.  Maybe he was right but, it does not seem as if the courts were completely certain this ‘translating’ was bulletproof. In 1399 English text was used to preserve Henry IV’s formal statement of his controversial claim to the throne. This ‘removed the ambiguity or blame that might arise if the clerk of parliament were to translate them into French or Latin and thus inadvertently modify their meaning’[10].

If the issue of meaning is present in the case of Henry’s claim surely that issue would be just as present in any court case.  Still, this issue of translation was not what killed law French.



So what did? As time progressed French was losing its status. Fast. In Edward II’s reign (1307-1327) French was being taught in schools. It was likely any lawyer could ‘rapidly write French of a sort’. It was far less likely they had ever written a single sentence in English[11].  Once French’s status started to decline, this quickly changed and the awkwardness of law French became glaringly obvious.

In 1601 Carey states in his book that, ‘to the peaceable government ignorance of the law is no small enemy’[12]. And this in truth was a major part of the issue. Rastell was the author of Termes de la Ley, a dictionary of law terms, which will be shown in our exhibition. He likely compiled his dictionary due to his belief that a lack of access to the law ‘was an impediment to good order’[13]. In a country where ignorance of the law was no excuse and where the laws were unreadable to even a reasonably educated man how could there be any justice at all?






Furthermore the language itself was already starting to sicken. After the 14th Century the grammar and vocabulary started to wither. In the time of Henry VI, Fortescue, the Lord Chief Justice said without knowing the language ‘wherein so much of our laws yet in force is written, a man cannot pretend to the name of Lawyer’[14].  This at first may seem like an indication of law French’s respected status. In one way, it obviously is. However the very fact Fortescue feels the need to state this suggests there are those who feel law French has had its day. Furthermore his logic for the necessity of law French is for understanding laws of the past, not for creating new material. By the mid-Tudor times the active vocabulary was less than 1000 words and legal writers ‘unashamedly inserted English words’[15].

So the solution is obvious. Get rid of law French and everyone will be happy… Well not quite. In fact there was horror at the idea! Roger North felt that the ‘law is scarcely expressible properly in English’[16].   Those who had learned law French were convinced that the nuances and exactness of the language could not possibly be translated into English. Harvey feels that the crux of the matter was the risk of ‘ambiguity’ and refers to the ‘dangers of re-encoding’[17].

Despite this, by 1488 English had replaced French entirely as the legislative language. But law French could not die so easily. As Maitland [18]puts it ‘there were still men living who thought about law in this queer slang’. Don’t believe him? The images below are from a book of statutes which is stored in our locked cases. Though the text is in English, the owner has actually annotated it in law French.

Still all good things must come to an end. By 1779 Kelham wrote that his dictionary had become ‘necessary’[19].  Even he confessed to not knowing the sense of some law French words.  People have actually attempted dictionaries since. One of the most recent was around 1914. Pike had written all but the introduction when suddenly he died. I know what you’re thinking. At least he had basically finished the dictionary! Unfortunately he had left a bizarre request that none of his manuscripts should be published after his death.  What could be done? A Mr. H G. Richardson was sent to inspect the proofs. He reported back that it would be ‘no loss’ if Pike’s wishes were observed[20]. Ouch, poor old Pike. Still at least his ghost can rest easy that his wishes were followed.





So why is any of this important? A dialect was born, grew up and died all within less than 200 years. Big deal.

First of all, although the main plant was weeded out from the garden of English, its roots still remain and can easily be seen in English today.  Any fans of the Oxford dictionaries’ blog may have seen a piece they did back in 2015 about the origin of the word culprit which derives from the old legal formula spoken by the prosecutor, Culpable: prest d’averrer nostre bille [21].

The phrase Oyez spoken at the beginning of court proceedings came from the old French word oir to hear[22].

Even royalty cannot escape its tendrils. The royal assent to parliamentary bills is still written as La Reine le vault[23] (The Queen wills it).

Since we can see almost the entire life span of law French, it highlights some interesting issues surrounding language. Many people complain that recently language is degenerating with the introduction of variations, such as those used in text speak. However law French shows how quickly language has always changed to suit its purpose.

In the below picture from Kelham’s dictionary, we can see in law French the French Qui has become Ki.

Fast forward a few hundred years and Ki  has entered French as a quicker spelling used for texting and the internet[24].

The debate about whether the law should be understandable or if it needs exact, almost scientific terminology, is still raging today.  In his article Peter Butt argues very clearly that legalese (lawyer speak as opposed to plain English) should be done away with.  However, even he admits that, ‘Some genuine legal terms of art are difficult to translate into plain language…and sometimes it may even be more efficient to leave them in the document’[25]. The main argument to remove law French was so that the law would be understandable for the average person. Law French is freshly buried and yet ‘legalese’ is already causing the same problems. It makes you wonder, if the law is written in plain English now, will people in 500 years’ time once again realise that a new law dialect has grown up?

The issues that we have used law French to highlight such as translation, simplicity, meaning and the need to be understood all feel very relevant today. The EU has 24 official languages. This means all EU legislation and significant documents are translated into each of the 24 languages. When you consider the law French lawyers’ disgust at the idea of translating from law French into just one language, you might not be blamed for thinking they would have short-circuited at the very notion of a legal document being produced in 24 different languages.



Furthermore after Brexit (sorry I know we’re all sick to death of the word!) the question has been raised whether English will have a place in the EU at all.  There are many articles debating this if you’re interested but, the one that really grabbed me was by Marko Modiano who concludes that if the British were no longer present as regulators, ‘It would allow continental Europeans an opportunity to claim English and in so doing form it to best suit their own needs’[26].  You can’t help but wonder how long before Euro-English becomes unintelligible to native English speakers. How long before Euro-English needs to be translated into English?

Language and the law are always going to be awkward bed-fellows. The point of legislation is that is can be referred to as proof of what is right and what is wrong, that it is not amended without lengthy debate. This leads to texts that are frozen in the vocabulary of their time. Conversely language never freezes. It is constantly being redefined and readjusted to suit new circumstances and accomplish new tasks. It changes, it adapts, new meanings are given while older meanings are lost entirely. Law French is a perfect example how language can be considered ‘so apt, so natural and so proper’[27] at one time and yet within a couple of hundred years its vocabulary is already a mystery. Although law French is from a specific pinpoint in time, the issues it raises are far more universal and ubiquitous.


***If you’re interested in seeing some examples of law French in action, you can check out our new display in the Law Library’s Main Reading Room. We’ve brought many of our older books out from our locked cases, so you can see the usage of law French during its lifetime. ***


[1] S. Lusignan, ‘French Language in Contact with English: Social Context and Linguistic Change’, in Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (ed.), Language and Culture in Medieval Britain : The French of England, c.1100-c.1500, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2009, p.21. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30th April 2018).

[2] J.Baker, Manual of French Law, Aldershot, Scolar, 1990, p.3

[3] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[4] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[5] J.Baker, Manual of French Law, Aldershot, Scolar, 1990, p.4

[6] F. W. Maitland, Introduction to Vol. 1 of the Year Books of Edward II, Reprinted on (accessed 30 April 2018).

[7] (accessed 30 April 2018).

[8] W. M. Ormrod, ‘The Language of Complaint: Multiligualism and Petitioning in Later Medieval England’, in Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (ed.), Language and Culture in Medieval Britain : The French of England, c.1100-c.1500, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2009, p.21. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30th April 2018), p. 32.

[9] J.Baker, Manual of French Law, Aldershot, Scolar, 1990, p.3

[10] W. M. Ormrod, ‘The Language of Complaint: Multiligualism and Petitioning in Later Medieval England’, in Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (ed.), Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England, c.1100-c.1500, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2009, p.21. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30th April 2018), p. 39.

[11] F. W. Maitland, Introduction to Vol. 1 of the Year Books of Edward II, Reprinted on (accessed 30 April 2018).

[12] R. Carey, Le necessarie vse & fruit de les pleadings, London, Adam Islip, p.3 Available from E-book library (accessed 30 April 2018).

[13] David Harvey, The law emprynted and Englysshed : the printing press as an agent of change in law and legal culture 1475-164, London, Hart Publishing. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30 April 2018), 382.8/1001.

[14] Cited in R. Kelham, A dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language, London, W. Clarke and Sons, 1779, p.VI

[15] J.Baker, Manual of French Law, Aldershot, Scolar, 1990, p.35

[16] F. W. Maitland, Introduction to Vol. 1 of the Year Books of Edward II, Reprinted on (accessed 30 April 2018).

[17] David Harvey, The law emprynted and Englysshed : the printing press as an agent of change in law and legal culture 1475-164, London, Hart Publishing. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30 April 2018), 633.3/1001.

[18] F. W. Maitland, Introduction to Vol. 1 of the Year Books of Edward II, Reprinted on (accessed 30 April 2018).

[19] R. Kelham, A dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language, London, W. Clarke and Sons, 1779, p.22

[20] J.Baker, Manual of French Law, Aldershot, Scolar, 1990, p.9.

[21] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[22] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[23] W. M. Ormrod, ‘The Language of Complaint: Multiligualism and Petitioning in Later Medieval England’, in Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (ed.), Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England, c.1100-c.1500, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2009, p.21. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30 April 2018), p.40 .

[24] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[25] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[26] (accessed 30 April 2018)

[27] David Harvey, The law emprynted and Englysshed : the printing press as an agent of change in law and legal culture 1475-164, London, Hart Publishing. Available from e-book library, (accessed 30 April 2018), 628.5/1001.

Guess Who?

So by now you’ve read all about various board games beloved by the Law Library Staff. Maybe you’ve even blown the dust off your old Monopoly set and are trying to locate all the various items needed for a good game of Buckaroo.  Just make sure you don’t forget the best game of all… Guess Who!

Unlike Trivial Pursuit, you don’t need a wide range of general knowledge. Unlike chess, you don’t need the strategic mind that easily responds to the Urusov gambit. And best of all, unlike every single other game ever, you don’t need to find an opponent of equal skill. Why? Because when you are asked ‘Guess Who?’ every single possible answer is on your board, right in front of you.

I know what you’re thinking…If only we could always see all the information we needed this easily. Unfortunately the law library is marginally bigger than your average Guess Who board.  Especially for first time users, the four floor behemoth can almost be heard, dauntingly calling, ‘Guess which book?’


(Photo taken by Val_McG and used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5)

Do not lose heart, intrepid adventurers, for we have a multitude of wise sages to guide you in your research.

Yes, even the Bodleian Law Library can be rendered as clear and simple as a Guess Who board. Simply avail of our ‘Book A Librarian’ service. (Our wise sages are often referred to as librarians despite the obvious aptness of the former title).

These sessions can be booked by anyone with a University Library card by contacting the team on . The sessions are usually about 1-2 hours long and can cover anything you need help with.

So, who would be on our Guess Who board of Law Librarians?

First we have Kate Jackson and Nicola Patrick, Legal Research Librarians extraordinaire. Both are happy to help with research on UK law.  They are also experts in transforming the labyrinth of legal databases into a straightforward path to answers.

Next we have Elizabeth Wells, our foreign and international law librarian. She is keen to aid with queries about foreign jurisdictions, public and private international law and the history of the Anglo American law tradition. She is also our resident Oscola Oracle bringing clarity to the murky intricacies of Law Authorities referencing here in Oxford.


Our Academic Services Librarian is Margaret Watson, both willing and able to deal with EU enquiries and research.

Hannah Chandler is our Official Papers Subject Consultant (which is almost as impressive a title as Wise Sage).  The Official Papers section might be easily missed by the inexperienced traveller.  A crying shame! Our ground floor contains a treasure trove of Parliamentary Papers as well as depository collections of the United Nations and more besides.  For help navigating through this cave of wonders, Hannah is definitely the one to call.

Last but not least is Helen Garner. She is the Information Resources Librarian and responsible for the collection here at the Bodleian Law Library.  (Not to mention that she is also currently the acting Law Librarian). Legend has it that Helen need only click her fingers and the perfect book appears on the desk in front of her!  Whilst she might not always be willing to show you this particular super power she is always happy to help readers find UK legal sources and materials.

Interested in a topic that hasn’t been mentioned here? Our librarians are a brave bunch and always ready to test their wits against a new challenge.  It’s always worth booking a session because, just like Guess Who, you can’t know unless you ask!

(Photo taken by Tim Evanson. Posted here under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.)