Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Law, Professor Michael Ryan reminds us by his emphasis on law as legitimating representation, is also text. This is the most telling of the many points he sets out in his provocative and thoughtful article; for those of us called to the bar, it is an important reminder. For us lawyers, after all, law is not so much text as it is process, not so much noun as verb. It is not that we disregard the fact that law is in part a pen-and-ink affair. Our shelves sag with books; in academic life, few divisions of a university spend so great a portion of the budget on the library as does a law school. It is rare for lawyers, however, to read a volume of a code from cover to cover, or a whole volume of reported decisions, even of the United States Supreme Court. We seek out paragraphs here and there, stumble over subsections, or ferret out helpful passages from opinions much as a carpenter rummages in the wood box to find those bits and pieces that will make the new bookshelves presentable. The text of law is for us tool or obstacle, a starting point for our labor, not an end.

If we lawyers have a chief reason to be grateful to the law-and-literature theorists, surely it is this: They remind us that for much of society, including many of its most articulate and thoughtful members,law is first and foremost text, a text with structure, tone, and syntax.Thus, for those in society who must work with the law, legal text represents a part--arguably an indispensable part-of law's reality.No doubt our failure as lawyers to think of law as a body of text reflects that, while our skills are generalized, our interests become increasingly particular after we pass the bar examination and apprentice ourselves to become tax lawyers, or labor lawyers, or any one of many specialists within the legal profession. As we thus narrow the focus of our work we narrow also our use of the written law. We disregard most of the available text, instead seeking out increasingly particularized sections of code, opinion, or regulation that conform to our theories of what the law should be.