Wednesday, October 20

Lawyers for Derrida - Back when I was at UVa Law -- yes, way back then -- it was fondly known as "University of Chicago East" for the faculty's allegiance to the law-and-economics school of thought. Basically, this theory says that legal rules should be clear, concise and easy to apply, thereby reducing the risks and economic costs associated with uncertainty. In effect, my professors raised economic rationality to the level of moral imperative, equating it with "justice" and "equity." A bright-line rule was per se better than fuzzy shades of gray, because it cost less to obey and enforce, even if it seemed less "fair."

So yeah, basically I studied law at an über-capitalist bootcamp. That's why I can hardly imagine the wildly divergent philosophy under which some lawyers must have learned, for them to have become disciples of the late, great deconstructionist Derrida. Here's a sampling of some of their approaches to legal reasoning:

"Language as a surface is not a flat message board where you can post the message that you want. It's a roiling wave of meaning whose force we can direct," [a devotee] said. Practically speaking, this means that legal documents [laws, contracts, etc.] may be read -- deconstructed, even -- as texts separate from their authors' intent.

Try explaining that to a client. When asked for advice, a lawyer's favorite answer may be "it depends," but we don't usually mean it as emphatically as post-structuralists do.