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How lawyers shape the world: a study in legal semiotics


Lawyers may indeed shape the world, but how and why they do so is the subject of a new book by Penn State Law faculty authors Jan Broekman and Larry Catá Backer, who recently published Lawyers Making Meaning: The Semiotics of Law in Legal Education II (Springer 2012). 

"Think of this book as a contribution to the philosophy of law that is centered on the fundamental problem communication and meaning, but one with deeply practical implications for law and lawyers; consider for example the meaning and implications of a simple statement that recently caused a stir: 'corporations are people too,'” said Larry Catá Backer, who is the W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law and International Affairs and teaches classes in constitutional, corporate, and transnational law and policy. Legal semiotics is the study of the philosophy of meaning in law and was developed in part by the late Roberta Kevelson, a Penn State professor who was an influential exponent of important strands of modern legal semiotics, and who established the Penn State Center for Semiotic Research in Law, Government and Politics.  

“The very nature of law is social, in the sense that it exists only in relation to something or someone else; to be 'law-abiding' for example requires one to be able to communicate a standard of behavior and another to understand and apply it as the speaker intended and many others to ensure that this occurs. Lawyers engage in semiotics all the time; they just might not think of it that way,” said Backer. “Any time a lawyer seeks to extend or to narrow judicial precedent or work with an administrative agency on the interpretation of regulations that lawyer is engaged in semiotics, or making meaning from words,” said Backer, who also blogs about law and philosophy at Law at the End of the Day
 
"Students must master legal writing, legal argumentation, understand the predominant legal hierarchy — but all this remains vague and void without semiotic insight," explains co-author Professor Broekman on the blog Semiotics of Law. Professor Broekman teaches Civil Law: From Roman Empire to European Union and organizes the Law School’s annual Roberta Kevelson Seminar on Law and Semiotics. He served as dean of the Law Faculty at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium and has been a member of the faculty of the Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and the University of Illinois. 
 
The book is part two of a planned three-volume series. Volume one was published last year by Springer.

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