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The Language of Law School
Learning to “Think Like a Lawyer”
Elizabeth Mertz
1
2007


3
Oxford University Press, Inc., publishes works that further
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Copyright © 2007 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mertz, Elizabeth, J.D.
The language of law school : learning to “think like a lawyer” / Elizabeth Mertz.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13 978-0-19-518286-6; 978-0-19-518310-8 (pbk.)
ISBN 0-19-518286-3; 0-19-518310-X (pbk.)
1. Law—Study and teaching—United States.
2. Law—United States—Methodology.
I. Title.
KF279.M47 2007
340.071'173—dc22
2006045325
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper


.
.
For my daughters, Jenny and Becca


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Preface
T
his is a study whose genesis dates back to the day I first took my seat in a Con-
tracts 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 col-
umns; the first kept track of the concepts my professor was endeavoring to im-
press 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 ef-
fort 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 trans-
formation in thought patterns—a transformation often referred to as “learning to
think like a lawyer.” Professors and students accomplish this purported transfor-
mation, 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 profes-
sors 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.



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