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

By Elizabeth Mertz | Go to book overview

9
Legal Language and American Law:
Authority, Morality, and Linguistic Ideology

We return now to the themes with which the book began, with the added vantage given by our in-depth examination of similarities and differences across the classrooms of this study. First, we have seen that context matters to the understanding of law school training in a number of ways. In the classroom, aspects of the immediate context are crucial in the dynamics that create more and less inclusive discussions. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the demographic backgrounds of students and professors, the size and linguistic structuring of the class itself, and the status, history, location, and culture of the law school. Contextual cues in class also point the way to the shared epistemology that is conveyed in all of these classrooms, despite surface differences in discourse style. Finally, some kinds of context are ignored or omitted, creating a blind spot in the understanding of social conflict taught to law students.

This brings us to a second important finding: the way legal language in this society shares with capitalist epistemology more generally a kind of double edge. In the second section of the chapter, I discuss this phenomenon, which carries with it both a powerful potential and a potential danger. However, as the third section of this conclusion argues, in the legal arena we see the primacy of language and linguistic ideology in mediating this double edge. It is in and through the inculcation of approaches to text, reading, and language that the legal version of commodification—of a social structural sleight of hand—takes place. On the one hand, this means that legal language is deeply imbricated with social power in multiple ways. On the other hand, the independent importance of this linguistic level means that the process of legal training in particular, and of legal translation in general, cannot be analyzed as a mere reflex of power dynamics. Certainly social power has an impact at the many levels delineated here. But we can also see that

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