Page 33

University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law - Summer 2013

Linguistics scholar and law professor Brian Slocum emphasizes how language profoundly affects our understanding of the law As a law professor, Brian Slocum wants to teach his students about the gray areas. First-year students start school often thinking that the law is clear-cut, he says: Memorize rules and apply them to the facts, and you can predict a case’s outcome. Law is a lot more complex, says Slocum, who teaches legislation and statutory interpretation, administrative law and contracts at Pacific McGeorge. “What I try to do in these classes is help them understand that everything is indeterminate,” he says. “When they read a statute or some rule or some opinion, they need to be able to seize on the language that’s going to need interpretation, and they have to understand why the language is indeterminate, and why that means that they can’t be certain about the outcome of any case.” Since joining Pacific McGeorge’s faculty five years ago, Slocum has earned a master’s degree in linguistics at UC Davis and is in the dissertation-writing stage of completing a Ph.D. program there. Slocum has long been interested in semantics and how language informs the understanding of law. “Law is all about language, interpreting texts,” says Slocum. Studying linguistics and philosophy has helped him interpret legal texts with more depth. When people fight over contracts, he says, they typically wrangle over how the contract should be interpreted. What does “reasonable” mean, for example, a commonly used word? Administrative law reveals how government agencies operate, interpreting the statutes that govern them. In addition to teaching contracts, he has become a regular on a local TV station that tries to help individuals involved in everyday contract disputes such as cable bills. After Slocum earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School, he served a federal clerkship with an appellate judge. He later joined the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. In its civil division, Slocum tried a lot of appellate cases, including immigration cases. After two years, he applied for a position in the criminal division’s child exploitation unit, where he helped prosecute “really disturbing” crimes, such as the possession and production of child pornography. In 2003, Slocum left to teach law. While he enjoyed trying cases and seeing tangible results from his work as a practicing attorney, he wanted to pursue legal issues with more depth. “Academia is the only area where you can think about law in a broader sense,” he says. “What I try to do in these classes is help students understand that everything is indeterminate,” he says. “When they read a statute or some rule or some opinion, they need to be able to seize on the language that’s going to need interpretation, and they have to understand why the language is indeterminate, and why that means that they can’t be certain about the outcome of any case.” paci f i c l aw 31


University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law - Summer 2013
To see the actual publication please follow the link above