Almost everyone who is not trained in the law has struggled to understand legal documents, such as contracts and guarantees - not because they read poorly but because they lack legal knowledge and experience with legal language. Readers can experience the same difficulty in other fields such as philosophy, literary theory, or economics; it takes time to gain the knowledge required to become an expert reader in these areas. However, between the extremes of the trained legal expert and the complete novice is "another possible meaning of legal literacy: the degree of competence in legal discourse that is required for meaningful and active life in our increasingly legalistic and litigious culture" (par. 2). It is this degree of competence that the author discusses in the following essay.
James Boyd White is a professor of law at the University of Chicago. His interests and knowledge extend beyond the law to the history of civilization; he is a member of a faculty group that focuses on the ancient Mediterranean World. He is the author of The Legal Imagination and coauthor of Constitutional Criminal Procedure.
As you read, try to answer the following question in relation to the essay: What general principles about language can I learn from the essay?
Publication Information & Recommended Citation
White, James Boyd. "The Invisible Discourse of the Law: Reflections on Legal Literacy and General Education." W. R. Winterowd and G. R. Winterowd, co-authors. In The Critical Reader, Thinker and Writer. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. Co., 1992.