Laurence Cecil Bartlett GOWER
Doctor of Letters
Mr Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting to you Professor Laurence Cecil Bartlett Gower, Fellow of the British Academy, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, for the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
Professor Gower was born in 1913 and went to school at Lindisfarne College. He attended University College, London, and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1933. He took the LLM degree in 1934, and in 1936 was admitted as a solicitor. He practised as a solicitor in the years before the war. After the war, Professor Gower turned to the academic life and, at the remarkably youthful age of thirty-five was given the Sir Ernest Cassel Chair of Commercial Law at the University of London. His chair was tenable at the London School of Economics and Political Science. At that time, that world famous institution was passing through its period of post-war growth. Those who studied under Professor Gower, and there are a number of them in the hall this evening, remember him as an extremely dedicated, and, indeed, inspiring, teacher. Harvard University too, called him to visit them in 1954 and 1955. Yet his services to teaching were not the end of his activities. Later there were fresh fields to conquer.
As a professor of commercial law from 1948 to 1962, Professor Gower became an established authority in his field. Many students have profited enormously from his writings. These include his "Pollock's Law of Partnership", in its fifteenth edition, and the "Principles of Modern Company Law", which had by 1969 achieved its third edition. His articles on legal subjects, and in particular, legal education, are trenchant and thought provoking. Sir, company law may have had its origins in a bubble far off in the mythical South Seas, but it has now rightly acquired its own scientific status, with a battery of useful concepts. The business man, as well as the student of company law, knows them well; some magnificent and evocative - such as flotation, takeovers, reconstructions, estoppel; a few rather sinister ones such as insider trading, promoters, bankruptcy and dividend stripping.
In his presentation of his subject Professor Gower is shrewd balanced and highly informative as his writings amply show.
Professor Gower applied himself to steering his subject to its rightly pivotal situation in a period of rapid change. Britain now passed through post-war recovery, a new look in industry and a host of nationalisation measures. In 1962 Professor Gower took up a new challenge when he left London to become Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law in the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He had already advised on law and legal education in West Africa (Ghana and Nigeria) and his departure for Nigeria was the gain for the country when it was a loss for Britain.
In Nigeria, Professor Gower found all the challenges which he might have expected. Legal education was in 1962 still relatively speaking in its infancy. The Nigerian universities were about to find their own problems, legal, moral, cultural. For we who live in universities, preoccupied as we are with the inclinations of the intellect, are constantly confronted with the dilemma so well characterised by Sir Thomas Browne: the world, he explained, took six days to make, but six thousand years to fathom. Professor Gower now ever is a lawyer, and, reputedly, lawyers prefer to win even against impossible odds.
His tour of duty in Nigeria came to an end in 1965 and his return to Britain saw his elevation to the office of Law Commissioner. Law Commissioners are the streamliners of the often wayward English legal system, that small but select group who comb through the statutes of the nation. At the same time, his services on eminent public bodies continued. He was a member of the Ormrod Committee on Legal Education and a member of the Royal Commission on the Press. He was made a Trustee of the British Museum and an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics. He also helped to produce a report on legal education for Markerete College in Uganda. It was during this period that Professor Gower became one of this University's advisers on legal education. In 1967 Professor Gower came to Hong Kong to give advice to the Senate of this University regarding the formal institution of legal studies here.
In 1968 the Senate decided to accept the report of Professor Gower (and that of his colleague Sir Zelman Cowen who was to become Governor General of Australia). Funds were made available and we therefore set up a Department of Law under the leadership of Professor DME Evans in 1969. We are, then, just ten years later, already established as producers of first-rate lawyers.
Sir, at this point, I would like to pause to outline to you some of the elements in the thinking of our eminent graduand. They are indeed instructive.
He accepts legal education as "the mastery of legal craftsmanship through the analysis of a limited number of legal doctrines studied in their social, economic and political context". He takes to task those within the law profession who are inclined, as he puts it, to identify their profession with that of the jobbing plumber". He doubts the often found distinction between so-called "academic" and "practical" branches of law. He further reminds us of the unattractiveness of the idea that "practical utility and accessibility are inconsistent with academic purity".
He knows, Sir, in his enthusiasm for Legal aid clinics, that (to use his own words again), "often the most difficult task of the lawyer is not to find out what the law is, but to ascertain the facts from an all-too-often inarticulate and confused applicant".
He wishes, in the Ormrod tradition, to develop an "understanding of the relationship of law to the social and economic environment in which it operates". On a more practical note, he thinks that teachers of law can benefit from the newest developments in the field for example of visual aids. No doubt, Sir, he would be more impressed with this citation were it to have visual aids, though I plead (a good lawyer's word) that, clad in our splendid robes here today we may be visual enough.
Professor Gower thinks that universities are proper places for pure academic training; they may well be equally appropriate, he thinks, for the development of further professional skills. He will recall the famous phrase of Karl Llewelyn, that the LLB gives a basic education for all "law jobs", and, in one truly inspired paragraph, he sets out a succinct statement of the qualities of a professional lawyer. 'No professional lawyer, whether he be a barrister or solicitor, and whether he intends to practise privately or in central or local government or in industry or commerce, can be regarded as decently qualified unless he has a grasp of Constitutional Law, Contract, Tort, Criminal Law, Land Law, Trusts, Family Law and Succession, Company Law, Taxation and Accounting, and unless he knows how to organise an office, to take instructions, to write legal opinions, to draft conveyances, contracts and other forms of legal documents, to handle litigation, to act as an advocate and to undertake negotiations, and unless he understands the etiquette and ethics of the profession. It is a true counsel of perfection!
Sir, in his remarkable career, Professor Gower who, for long, in his inimitable way, bestrode the summit of his own profession of law, moved into the university world once again, and, this time, at the top. In 1971 Jim Gower became Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University. At Southampton he has seen the coming into maturity of the new Medical School and he is no doubt highly gratified that the good reputation of Southampton's Medical School has preceded him here today. He has moreover nurtured Southampton's engineers and scientists. He obtained funds (a solicitor solicits) for Britain's first custom-built hall of residence for badly disabled students. This has been a great triumph for him. His concern for the needs of all students, British and non-British, who attend his university is legendary. Colleagues will tell you that he is a liberal, (small "1"), liked by students and porters, but somewhat less by the more pompous academics. I now speak with some trepidation, but I plead that the words are his own: for he has recently described the office of Vice-Chancellor as 'a job which does not demand, nor allow time for, any form of cerebral activity'. This is taking modesty to quite extraordinary extremes. A Vice-Chancellor true, is often the manager of an estate - to some a little like a businessman wolf in academic sheep's clothing. One day perhaps Professor Gower may write the definitive primer on the subject in which the marriage of the highest academic attainments and the skills of senior management are effectively combined. The modest good humour is ever-present. Ten years ago he said that his views on legal education are about 140 years old - yet still not everybody listened to them. Such is the task of the innovator that he concluded, with wry resignation, "all one can do is to go on shouting". Sir, Professor Gower is a company lawyer. Today we would bring him into our limited or rather exclusive company, of doctors of this university, given his knowledge, skills and judgement. We have no intention of "over-taxing" him, of "winding him up" or of putting him into 'liquidation'. We wish however to be share-holders, maybe partners, in his honours.
Mr Chancellor, for his services to legal literature, scholarship and education in Britain, the Commonwealth and Hong Kong, I call upon you to confer upon Laurence Cecil Bartlett Gower the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor Peter Bernard Harris, BA, BSC (Econ), PhD., DLitt (PCE), the Public Orator of the University.