The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers: Book review

The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers (1) took me three days to read. Normally I need months to get through books like this because I read several concurrently. Not so Philip Wood’s riveting work.

It’s hard to be original in praising The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers when others have written reviews like these:

“…a startlingly original piece of work that deserves to be read far and wide…It will have us thinking and wondering…completely brilliant from start to finish.” Humphrey Keenlyside

“…couldn’t put it down… You have gathered together an amazing amount of fascinating information. That is why I must read it all again.” Tony Herbert, former managing partner of Allen & Overy

“I put “The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers” in the same class as H.L.A Hart’s “The Concept of Law”. A ground breaking philosophical book of our time, and it is very readable. It sits on my shelf next to modern day philosophical classics such as Michael Oakeshott’s “On History”, Noel Castree’s “Social Nature”, A.C.Grayling “The Age of Genius” and works by Michel Foucault.” Jon Fisher

An especially Peter Alexiadis’ masterpiece <access to which requires IBA membership> in Business Law International, which ends:

“My hope is that Philip Wood’s book will become mandatory reading in introductory law courses around the world, replacing the jaw-droppingly boring texts which accompany subjects such as ‘Legal Institutions’.”

To put Wood’s book into context one needs to understand his experience. He was born in the then Northern Rhodesia and educated at the universities of Cape Town and Oxford. Most of his career was as a partner of Allen & Overy, where he became a foremost authority on international financial law and comparative law. He has written 18 books on these subjects, is a professor or fellow of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London, and has lectured at some 60 universities in the world. He is an honorary Queen’s Counsel.

Central theme of The Fall of Priests and the Rise of Lawyers

If there is one theme in The Fall of Priests and the Rise of Lawyers, it is that over a long period law has created a moral code that pervades and governs our lives in the way that religion used to. If there is truth in Woods’ argument, then it becomes a matter of recognising that the legal system and its many parts underpin the functioning and health of modern society.

Given my interests and work lie in the private practice branch of the legal profession, I find Woods ideas particularly appealing. They should and, I am confident, do provide deep meaning to private practitioners, their firms, law societies, regulators and educators. The profession of law has deep roots and clear values.

In some quarters we are seeing rising concerns about the sustainability of larger law firms, the impact of technology on the work of lawyers, and the emergence of substitutes for lawyers. Irrespective of the merits of these concerns (and noting many see the trends as welcome developments), it behoves all invested in the profession of law to protect its raison d’être – the protection and empowerment of humankind.

The institutions of law will continue to evolve, the values will endure.

The place of religion

And what of the first half of the title of Wood’s book: “The Fall of the Priests…“? You must read Wood to understand his argument. In the last 200 years, the legal systems of the world have adapted to and supported the influences of science and technology the rise of economic power, bit religions have not and ‘clung to old ways. Wood writes: “The rule of law does not offer the consolations of religion. But the rule of law empowers and liberates us and makes it possible for us to do things in peace which otherwise we would not be able to do.”


I am grateful to Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, our younger daughter, for her gift of The The Fall of Priests and the Rise of Lawyers at Christmas time last year.

(1) The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers, Philip R Wood. Hart Publishing (2016) ISBN 9781509905546


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