Can You Talk Like a Lawyer and Still Think Like a Human Being? Mertz's The Language of Law School


John M. Conley is William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. He can be contacted at


The last thirty years in anthropology, as well as in linguistics and in many of the other social sciences, have been characterized by a shift in theoretical focus from structure to practice. In The Language of Law School: Learning to “Think Like a Lawyer” (2007), linguistic anthropologist and law professor Elizabeth Mertz has brought this practice perspective to bear on the extraordinary linguistic and cultural venue that is the first-year law school classroom. In revealing the linguistic realities of teaching new students to “think like a lawyer,” she raises fascinating questions about the relationship between language and thought, the subtle effects of legal education, and the nature of law itself.