Alan Rodger was born on 18 September 1944 in Glasgow, to Professor T Ferguson Rodger, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow, and Jean Margaret Smith Chalmers, and educated at the independent Kelvinside Academy in the city. He studied at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA, and at the University's School of Law, taking an LLB. He then studied at New College, Oxford—under David Daube, Regius Professor of Civil Law—where he graduated with an MA (by decree) and DPhil, and was Dyke Junior Research Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1969 to 1970 and a Fellow of New College from 1970 to 1972.
He became an advocate in 1974 and was Clerk of the Faculty of Advocates from 1976 to 1979. He was a Member of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland from 1981 to 1984, and was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1985. He was an Advocate Depute from 1985 to 1988 and was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland in 1989, being promoted to Lord Advocate in 1992, at which time he became a life peer as Baron Rodger of Earlsferry, of Earlsferry in the District of North East Fife, and was appointed to the Privy Council.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1991, and the same year was the Maccabaean Lecturer at the Academy. He was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Bencher at Lincoln's Inn in 1992, and an Honorary Bencher of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland in 1998. Hon. Mem., SPTL, subseq. SLS, 1992; Corresp. Mem., Bayerische Akad. der Wissenschaften, 2001. Pres., Holdsworth Club, 1998–99. Hon. Fellow, American Coll. of Trial Lawyers, 2008. He has received honorary degrees of Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the Universities of Glasgow (1995), Aberdeen (1999) and Edinburgh (2001).
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry had been the Visitor of St Hugh's College, Oxford since 2003, High Steward of the University of Oxford since 2008, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow School of Law since July 2009.
Rodger was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice, a judge of the High Court of Justiciary and Court of Session, in 1995, He became Lord Justice General and Lord President in 1996. He was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 2001, upon the retirement of Lord Clyde. He and nine other Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became Justices of the Supreme Court upon that body's inauguration on 1 October 2009.