The Language of Law School: Learning to "Think like a Lawyer"

By Elizabeth Mertz | Go to book overview

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Entering the World of U.S. Law

Much has been written about the first year of law school. There have also been many attempts to define core aspects of U.S. legal reasoning. This book considers these two issues together, using a study of the initial law school experience to shed light on legal worldviews and understandings. One focus of this research is the content of U.S. legal epistemology (i.e., distinctively legal ways of approaching knowledge), as revealed in the training of initiates into the world of law. The study uses close analysis of classroom language to examine the limits that legal epistemology may place on law's democratic aspirations. It also asks whether legal training itself may impact the democratization of the legal profession—that "public profession"1 that figures so prominently in the governing of our country.

An important corollary of this focus on language as the window to legal epistemology is the central role of discourse to law and other sociocultural processes. In particular, the ideas that people hold about how language works (linguistic ideologies) combine with linguistic structuring to create powerful, often unconscious effects. In recent years, linguistic anthropologists have made much progress in developing more precise analytic tools for tracking those effects.2 In addition to studying spoken discourse, they have turned their attention to the impact of written texts on social interactions in ritual and institutional settings. This book uses linguistic anthropological analysis to uncover the ways microlevel processes in language embody and perpetuate powerful linguistic ideologies. These ideologies structure and reflect the social uses of language and text in legal contexts, and thus, I argue, provide a key foundation for "thinking like a lawyer."3 In this sense, one thinks like a lawyer because one speaks, writes, and reads like a lawyer. Some would associate thinking like a lawyer with superior analytic skills in a neutral sense; I

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