I teach law, rhetoric, and writing at a predominantly undergraduate university with a liberal arts mission. Earlier in my career, I studied and practiced law, and then I went back to school for a Ph.D.
Many understand legal education and law as exclusively or primarily about professional training and practice. Yet as any number of people have observed, law is too important to be left [only] to the lawyers. Law as a liberal art prepares students to critically consider the myriad ways that the law affects their own and others’ lives. Specifically, studying the language and rhetoric of law can help students understand how argument works – one basis for the law’s authority – and how they might cultivate as well as respond to authority in conversation with others.
Questions regarding the nexus of law, rhetoric, and decision-making engaged me as a practicing attorney and continue to do so as an academic in an English department. For example, what does it mean to describe free speech as like the “competition of the market” (Abrams v. U.S.) versus a “powerful medicine” with “necessary side effects” (Cohen v. California)? Why would a justice reveal himself to be “[o]ne who belongs to the most vilified and persecuted minority in history” when arguing to uphold a state law requiring schoolchildren to salute the U.S. flag (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette)?
Currently, my interest is in how writers – be they undergraduates, judges – understand research and draw on the work of others. Find out more by checking out my Current Projects.
(A note about the header image: While at the University of Michigan, I pursued a project in the Bentley Archives on the history of the Junior Girls’ Play, an all-women student theatrical tradition extending from 1904 well into the twentieth century. In this photograph from 1923, within a few years of women achieving the right to vote in this country, a chorus line of women students confronts the camera in the guise of well-heeled young men. Women such as these were active in campus gender politics, raising funds for the building of an exclusively female student union (the Michigan League, now co-ed) and petitioning student affairs for the opportunity to open their performances to the public, including men.)