Good Legal Thought: What Wordsworth Can Teach Langdell About Forms, Frames, Choices, and Aims

Vermont Law Review 41 (1):1-22 (2016)
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Abstract
Langdellian “science” and its “formalism” ignore ways form permits and even creates freedom of choice. For example, as Wordsworth notes, though the weaver is restricted by what his form of loom can weave, the weaver may nonetheless choose what and how he weaves. Furthermore, the loom creates weaving possibilities that do not exist without it. Such freedom alongside form is often lost on lawyers, judges, and teachers trained primarily in Langdellian redacted appellate cases where “facts” and other framed matters often wrongly appear as simply given. Similarly, in the context of their redacted appellate cases, many current students may only see constraint in IRAC (Issue-Rule-Application-Conclusion) and other thought forms rather than the fastidious freedoms such forms both provide and create. Overlooking such freedoms is not only misleading in itself. It also misses the need to study how such freedoms are and should be exercised. When facts are simply presented as “given” and strategic and other choices go unrecorded and unnoticed in redacted appellate opinions, no thorough analysis of these overlooked subjects can occur. This is extremely troubling since such overlooked subjects are at the very heart of the lawyer’s craft. Attempting to remedy such Langdellian shortcomings, this article explores, among other things, five basic levels of thought and the framing choices in such levels of thought: references, issues, rules, application of rules, and conclusions. Though often merely taken as “given” in redacted appellate opinions, a good grasp of reference assures that parties are in fact talking about the same matter or matters (the “reference”). It also increases the likelihood of ascertaining and properly framing all the relevant “facts” in a manner reasonably and ethically consistent with a client’s real interests. Similarly, focusing on flexibility of issue framing both brings necessary focus on what is important in the reference and, to the extent reasonable and ethical, again increases the likelihood of frames most consistent with a client’s real interests. A good grasp of applicable rules and how to frame and apply them on its face increases the likelihood of representing a client well. A good grasp of conclusions and how to frame and hedge them also does the same. Grasping the multilevel complexities in play at these multiple levels pushes us beyond briefing redacted appellate cases to the much more difficult and stimulating work of exploring and teaching good legal thought at all its levels. Legal writing professors are pioneers in this regard and others in the academy can learn much from them. Keywords: RIRAC, IRAC, CREAC, Reference, Issue, Analysis, Rule, Application, Conclusion, Frame, Framing, Metaphor, Concept, Category, Legal Thought, Legal Analysis, Rhetoric, Langdell, Wordsworth, Form, Formalism, Sonnet, Text
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