Date: 17 Jan 2009

Vico and Imagination: An Ingenious Approach to Educating Lawyers with Semiotic Sensibility

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Abstract

Law is a specialized semiotic realm, but lawyers generally are ignorant of this fact. Lawyers may manage meaning, but they also are managed by meaning. Seemingly trapped by the weight of pre-existing signs, their attempts to manage these meanings generally are limited to technical interventions and instrumentalist strategies. Signs have power over lawyers because they are embedded in narratives, a semiotic economy that confronts the lawyer as “given” even though it is dynamic and constantly under construction. Most lawyers do not make meaning through legal narratives; rather, they parrot bits of the controlling narratives in response to certain problems. Because clients often can achieve their objectives when their lawyers crudely manipulate the symbols of law, these endeavors pay very well. Well-paid lawyers tend not to ask too many questions. Consequently, semiotics is, at best, misunderstood by lawyers; more likely it is wholly unknown. A lawyer’s avowed instrumentalism is the very problem to be addressed in this regard. For the scope of discussion, I refer to Vico’s famous On the Study Methods of Our Time and draw my conclusion for the lawyer of our time.