Lawyers and law professors are purportedly “wordsmiths.” Their
word-smithing skills are particularly important when they are playing
and the f/k/a gang are particularly annoyed to see the phrase “law porn”
catching on in legal academia and the blawgisphere.
You see, the term refers to materials that are neither “law” nor “porn.”
Those who use the phrase “law porn” seem to attribute it to Stanford
phenomenon or concept, but Brian Leiter equates “law porn” with
“Sextonism” [named after former NYU Law School Dean John Sexton,
who is now President of NYU], which he describes as:
“a disease familiar to law faculty, in which a good school
suddenly lapses in to uncontrolled and utterly laughable
hyperbole in describing its faculty and accomplishments
to its professional peers. The NYU alumni magazine,
which was sent to all law faculty nationwide, was so plagued
by Sextonism that a Stanford professor memorably dubbed
it ‘law porn’.”
Dan Markel has described it further (PrawfsBlawg, Aug. 16, 2005), explaining:
“Judging by my mailbox at school, I guess it is now typical
brochures to every law professor in the country that extol
the unparalleled virtues of the sender’s school and each
hiccup and burp it emits.”
We mere mortals outside the portals of legal academia can now
perhaps start to guess just what they are talking about: A practice
in which a law school bombards law faculty with materials (often very
glossy and expensively produced) touting its virtues in a manner that
may be somewhat exaggerated. The practice has spread (perhaps
like a venereal disease) across the entire law school community. [It's
apparently done to help maintain or improve a school's reputation, for
purposes such as the US News law school rankings.]
putting an extra syllable
As mentioned above, then, we’re not talking about law — unless one
is so parochial in perspective as to equate “law school” with “law.”
And, we’re not talking about “porn” or “pornography” — except, perhaps,
in its original meaning: describing or “writing about prostitutes.”
So, why are otherwise smart folk like Pam Karlan, Brian Leiter, The
at PrawfsBlawg, using such a nonsense term? Do they really call every-
thing they don’t like (that’s slick or glossy?) “porn.” (Surely, it doesn’t
become “porn” merely because there’s a lot of it in their mailboxes. Or,
is that the connection?) Are they so isolated that the little four-letter
word “porn” is titillating for them? Especially catchy? Do they really
think “law” and “law school” mean the same thing?
in my argument
neologisms should actually help explain the concept they’re naming — and,
at least, shouldn’t create more confusion than explanation. It seems to us
that we have some pretty good terminology available already to describe large
amounts of unsolicited materials: “junk mail” and “spam.” We also have
a pretty good term for highly exaggerated claims about a product or service:
Law schools are sending out massive quantities of magazines and other
forms of prospectus-like promotional materials, which are filled with puffery.
Can you dear reader come up with a better name than “law porn” for such
items? If it needs to be cute and “neo”, maybe “law school puffspam” will
do. Or, “puffspectus.” Please offer your suggestions in a comment.
It’s not too late to improve on the term “law porn” and put it into the dustbin of internet history.
When you Google it today, there are only a few
results that relate to law school promotional materials, as opposed to porno-
graphy law and lawyers. Let’s keep it that way — except for new links to
this post, of course.
a neologism that simply fails to connote or denote the concept it has been
coined to represent, we should ask the coiners to come up with a better
choice — or create our own. Otherwise, all we’re promoting is — um —
update (Oct. 27, 2005): Paul Caron covers this topic today at TaxProf, including Pam Karlan’s defense of her term “law porn,” which she provided us last night in an email exchange. Please go read the whole explanation, where Karlan focuses on the analogous term “food porn,” and reminds us that “At least within the community to which I was directing my remarks . . . the phrase communicates exactly what I intended: people instantly recognize the phenomenon and share my reaction to it.”
Meanwhile, one wag has emailed to ask whether this bookstore has a neology section.
update (Oct. 27, 2005): Here are substitutes for the term
“law porn,” as suggested by our Commenters and emailers.
Thanks to each of them. Please help us add to our list.
Heimliched out of me
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