Legal Writing Prof Blog calls attention to an interesting post at the legal technology blog Prism Legal that suggests that what law schools have inscribed on their buildings sends a message to law students about legal writing. Specifically, Prism Legal thinks the plaques mounted on the facade of University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law featuring lengthy quotations from Cardozo and Holmes send these (very unhelpful) messages:
- Expect to write long, dense prose for a specialized audience. If you can say something in a lot of words instead of a few words, that’s great. Don’t make things easy; don’t worry about the average person.
- Focus only on the words. Don’t worry that how you lay them - fonts or spacing - make the text hard to read. Great content stands on its own - it’s worth suffering through.
- There is no context for the law; instead, it appears on a giant blank slate. You can find it if you try hard enough and simply apply it. Never mind society, citizens, or business, focus on the words because you really operate in a vacuum.
So how do you think Michigan Law measures up? The appendix to The Uses of Art: Medieval Metaphor in the Michigan Law Quadrangle lists what's on the walls in Ann Arbor. Here's just a sample, minus the quotations, the gratitude to benefactors, and the Latin:
Lawyers Club, State Street entrance: THE CHARACTER OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION DEPENDS ON THE CHARACTER OF THE LAW SCHOOLS. THE CHARACTER OF THE LAW SCHOOLS FORECASTS THE FUTURE OF AMERICA.
Lawyers Club, West entrance, South University: THE SUPREME COURT: PRESERVER OF THE CONSTITUTION; GUARDIAN OF OUR LIBERTIES; GREATEST OF ALL TRIBUNALS.
Lawyers Club, East entrance, South University: UPON THE BAR DEPENDS THE CONTINUITY OF CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT AND THE PERPETUITY OF THE REPUBLIC ITSELF.
Lawyers Club, east passage, courtyard side: THE CONSTITUTION; STEEL FRAME OF THE NATIONAL FABRIC; WITHOUT IT THE STRUCTURE WOULD FALL INTO RUINS.
Entrance to Dining Hall: FREE INSTITUTIONS, PERSONAL LIBERTY.
Legal Research Building, north entrance: LEARNED AND CULTURED LAWYERS ARE SAFEGUARDS OF THE REPUBLIC. And, LAW EMBODIES THE WISDOM OF THE AGES—PROGRESS COMES SLOWLY
Reading Room, interior entrance: A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING. DRINK DEEP OR TASTE NOT. And, JURISPRUDENCE IS A MILESTONE MARKING THE PROGRESS OF A NATION.
I'm actually not too sure about Legal Prism's premise given that I spent three years walking by all these weighty thoughts and never even noticed them. But I had very little room in my brain at the time for any words that were unlikely to be on an exam, and I now have a deeper appreciation of the importance of the messages that surround us. All in all, I'm pretty happy with what you'll find on a trip to the Law Quadrangle.