Law Students and Language

A comment by Karen Sawatzky on Simon’s Scrolling post inspired me to think about the language that is most appropriate when teaching law students legal research. Sometimes a funny anecdote is more than just a funny anecdote!

I used to use the expression “it’s a gong show” until a law student asked me what I meant by that. Thanks D. for asking what you thought was a silly question and what became a realization that I was totally pop-culture-less.

Articling student intake is mostly in June at my firm, and by my calculations, this year’s students might be as young as 24. This means they were born around my first year of university (ack)! They were teenagers on 9/11. They could have graduated from high school in 2006. They certainly didn’t receive an electric typewriter with correction tape from their parents as a high school graduation present. They will consider Google a verb.

As someone responsible for making sure that law students can make legal research analogies, I have a responsibility to ensure that I know what cultural and temporal references to use for the most effective learning. In other words, Homework!

Help me out with your suggestions. Sometimes an anecdote is more than an anecdote.


  1. While I never actually saw the show, I do actually know the meaning of “gong show.” I think it goes both ways. Young people also need to know the lingo of their elders if they are to be conversant with everyone in society.

    Just my 2 cents.

    After all, even though they didn’t see Episodes IV, V and VI in theatre, that’s no excuse not to know what “May the Force be You” means. If they are that culturally illiterate (like not knowing the origins of “To be, or not to be”, or “Out, out vile spot!”), they are going to have some communication problems in life and in practice.

    Of course, one can never know all the minutiae, but jeez, some stuff is just basic cultural currency. It behooves one to know it in the English speaking world.

    Are you with me you Nerfherders?

    The Wet One

  2. Shauna,

    Seeing them when they arrive at Law School every year I find the Beloit Mindset List very informative:

    On the Beloit list your 24 year olds are the class of 2010:

    A couple of tidbits from the 2006 list: – The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
    -There has always been only one Germany.
    -Milli Vanilli has never had anything to say.
    -Ringo Starr has always been clean and sober.

  3. Hey Mark, I love that website you linked to. What a fantastic resource and perfect for Shaunna to learn her ‘homework’ ;)

    For example, “The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.” this is a scary realisation. My friend lives in Poland and to forget the Soviet Union is to forget a significant element of why the country and the people are as they are. But for an American or Brit, it’s a lot more believable to understand they don’t have an understanding of such huge forces in history.

    With regards to law students (in the UK, those studying gdl courses) there’s always going to be a ever-shifting scale of language and association, just like in any group of people. I don’t think it’s as important to say intouch with the latest, as much as Shaunna thinks it is, but it doesn’t hurt to understand the most common references!

  4. Melanie Bueckert

    This web comic reminded me of your post, and somewhat humourously puts the matter in perspective.