This is a study whose genesis dates back to the day I first took my seat in a Contracts classroom as a first-year law student, and that came to fruition as I for the first time taught Contracts to first-year law students. Having participated in both ends of the process has added depth to my understanding of the law school experience. As a first-year student, I took notes in my Contracts class in two columns; the first kept track of the concepts my professor was endeavoring to impress on us, and the second was a running anthropologist's commentary on the studies that someone should do to investigate the social and linguistic processes at work in contract law—and in legal reasoning generally. This work is an initial effort to investigate the distinctive shape of a core U.S. legal worldview, empirically grounded in the study of the language through which law students are trained to this new approach.
During the first year of law school, students are reputed to undergo a transformation in thought patterns—a transformation often referred to as "learning to think like a lawyer." Professors and students accomplish this purported transformation, and professors assess it, through classroom exchanges and examinations, through spoken and written language. What message does the language of the law school classroom convey? What does it mean to "think" like a lawyer? Is the same message conveyed in different kinds of schools, and when it is imparted by professors of color or by white women professors, and when it is received by students of different races, genders, and backgrounds? This study addresses these questions, using fine-grained empirical research in eight different law schools.