To Teach and Persuade
Sherman J. Clark
University of Michigan Law School
January 17, 2013
Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 5 (2013): 1371-99
U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 300
Legal speech and religious speech inevitably do some of the same work. Both are vehicles through which we both talk about and become the kind of people we are. Granted, those of us who teach and argue about the law do not often conceive of our work in this way. That is part of what I hope to begin to remedy in this essay. While the construction of character is a more obvious aspect of religious than legal thought, law, including legal argument, can be constitutive in similar ways. If so — if our ways of talking about the law serve some of the same ends as do our ways of talking about religion — then we may be able to learn how better to talk about the law by thinking about how we talk about religion. I do not mean things like paragraph structure or argument organization or the proper use of headings, but rather something more subtle and more fundamental. One way to put it is this: legal speech can learn from religious speech how to be less small, and perhaps more ennobling.
More specifically, those of us who speak and teach about the law may be able to learn from religious ways of speaking and preaching how better to think about and take responsibility for the potential impact of what we say on those to whom we speak. And by impact, here I mean not merely our influence over what people do. We should, of course, be thoughtful about and take responsibility for what we persuade people to do. But I mean something more. We should also pay attention to the effects we may have on who people become, and, ultimately, whether they thrive. While lawyers rarely, if ever, confront such matters, preachers do. They have no choice. Those who talk about religion are forced by their subject matter to address questions of character and thriving — to think and speak about the ways in which who we are impacts how well and fully we live. This is never easy, nor should it be, but preachers cannot be afraid to talk about what matters, even when the things that matter prove difficult to define or impossible to measure. Lawyers should aspire to the same courage, and may be able to learn from the ways in which preachers speak in the face of this challenge.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 31
Keywords: legal speech, religious speech, persuasion, construction of character
JEL Classification: K19
Date posted: January 19, 2013 ; Last revised: February 4, 2013