Lawyers and Literature


On the jurisprudence of voice, see Julius Getman, Colloquy: Human Voice in Legal Discourse, 66 Tex. L. Rev. 577 (1988); Frank Michelman, Traces of Self-Government, 100 Harv. L. Rev. 4 (1986); Martha Minow, Many Silent Worlds (Book Review), 9 W. New Eng. L. Rev. 197 (1987); Mari Matsuda, Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations, 22 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 323, 324 (1987); Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Excluded Voices: New Voices in the Legal Profession Making New Voices in the Law, 42 U. Miami L. Rev. 29 (1987).

The language of law is embodied in legal discourse and the "professional voice" of lawyers and other legal actors. Legal education is a course of study, a schooling in the language of law, that is, the language in which law is spoken. We learn during legal education "to think like a lawyer"; talking follows suit. When we learn to think like a lawyer we are also learning to talk like a lawyer. Julius Getman argues that

The great bulk of legal education is devoted to inculcating "professional voice." The magical moment at which the "light dawns" ad bewildered first-year students are transformed into lawyers occurs when this voice becomes the student's own. [Julius Getman, Colloquy: Human Voice in Legal Discourse, 66 Tex. L. Rev. 577 (1988)]

Getman points out that the essence of professional voice is "addressing questions of justice through the analysis of legal rules." [Id. at 577]

The rhetorical style of "professional voice" is

[f]ormal, erudite, and old-fashioned. Its passages often are interspersed with terms of art and Latin phrases, as through its user were removed from and slightly above the general concerns of humanity. Indeed, the contributions of professional voice, ensures the use of language that removes some of the feeling and empathy that are part of ordinary human discourse. [Id. at 578]

Legal discourse and its professional voice are not, however, the only voices found in legal education. Getman notes that

Legal education like the law itself used a variety of distinct voices. Regardless of specific content, these voices convey characteristic messages. Not only do they embody different rhetorical styles, but they manifest different values, respond to different psychological needs, convey different archetypical visions, perform different functions, and pose different problems. [Id. at 577]

And what effect does the training and systematic use of professional voice have on the young lawyer?

Voice is one of the trappings and professionalism. Together with dress, manner, and support personnel--secretaries, research assistants, people to answer phones and to screen the lawyer's time—it serves symbolically to remove the lawyer and the law professor from the concerns of ordinary people. For this reason, too exclusive a focus on professional voice is dangerous to the lawyer's psyche.... Professional voice overemphasizes the importance of sonorous phrasing and suggests that a lawyer's professional responsibility necessitates responding to complex emotional situations in terms of abstract rules.

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