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

By Elizabeth Mertz | Go to book overview

6
On Becoming a Legal Person:
Identity and the Social Context
of Legal Epistemology

In the previous chapter, we saw that a distinctive approach to reading written legal texts is inculcated in law school classrooms. Reading like a lawyer turns out to be an essential ingredient in the transformation to thinking like a lawyer. And, of course, the way that professors determine whether students are learning to read like lawyers throughout the semester is by assessing how they talk about legal texts. In this chapter we move further into an analysis of the transformative process in first-year law school classrooms, turning now to ask about the contours of the legal personae revealed in talk about legal texts and about the spaces these people inhabit. In other words, what kind of people are revealed and created through legal readings—not only the people in the texts, but also the speakers in the classrooms? And what are the points of reference, the landscapes, within which they operate? We will find that as students shift to thinking like lawyers, they at times speak from an analytical distance, while at other times they actually stand in the shoes of new, legal personae. As students and professors speak from these positions, we can discern the outlines of a distinctively legal drama, with its own characters and settings made real as they are discussed and enacted in law school settings. In this chapter, we focus more carefully on metalinguistic features such as reported speech, footing, framing, role-play, deixis, and pronomial usage to understand this process in detail.

Using this approach, I delineate a somewhat different, more complicated understanding of the law school process than is usually indicated by those who characterize it as learning to think like a lawyer.1 Although I will not constantly use quotation marks to mark this particular framing of the concept "thinking like a lawyer," I would ask that this more complex understanding of the phrase be assumed wherever it appears in my text. First, this has long been an established catchphrase used by the

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