• Books

The Language of Law School: Learning to “Think Like a Lawyer”

February 2007

From Oxford University Press

Anyone who has attended law school knows that it invokes an important intellectual transformation, frequently referred to as “learning to think like a lawyer”. This process, which forces students to think and talk in radically new and toward different ways about conflicts, is directed by professors in the course of their lectures and examinations, and conducted via spoken and written language. This book delves into that legal language to reveal the complexities of how this process takes place. The book bases its linguistic study on tape recordings from first year Contracts courses in eight different law schools. The book discusses how these schools employ the Socratic method between teacher and student, forcing the student to shift away from moral and emotional terms in thinking about conflict, toward frameworks of legal authority instead. This move away from moral frameworks is key, the book says, arguing that it represents an underlying world view at the core not just of law education, but for better or worse, of the entire U.S. legal system—which, while providing a useful source of legitimacy and a means to process conflict, fails to deal systematically with aspects of fairness and social justice. The latter part of the study shows how differences in race and gender makeup among law students and professors can subtly alter this process.