I completed my LL.B in 1987, practiced as a solicitor for a few years, and became a barrister in 1992, practising as such until I left South Africa in 2002. During that time I was constantly surrounded by other lawyers, and the black-letter approach was a given. The law was there to be obeyed. One could seek to change it, or perhaps give it a new creative interpretation, but the ‘motive’ was never explored. The ‘intention of the legislature’ was a myth created as an aid to interpretation. There was not enough deliberation about the law’s place in greater society, as a constitutuent of people’s lives.
When I emigrated to Ireland, I discontinued my practice, and elected to teach instead. My students were not all law students, in fact most of them were anything but. A fascinating new world opened up as these students were asking not so much what the law said, but why would it be saying such a thing? What were they thinking when they made that law? How could anybody in their right mind write such a convoluted statute and expect anybody to follow it? Initially I defended the law like the good positivist that I was, but it was a lot more fun looking at the law like a non-lawyer and trying to answer those questions.