Brooklyn Law Review Symposium: Data-Driven Approaches to Legal Interpretation

Judges and legal scholars have increasingly turned to the methods of corpus linguistics in the realm of statutory interpretation over the past decade. The goal in corpus linguistics is to use big data, such as Brigham Young University’s 600 million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English, to determine how words contained in statutes are actually used, providing an empirical basis for determinations of “ordinary meaning” in statutory interpretation. At the same time, some scholars argue that this sort of naturalistic data is inferior to information that can be gathered from survey studies, at least for contemporary cases, because surveys can focus on how people understand the terminology as it is actually used in the statutes with respect to the fact patterns that are in dispute. Finally, while judicial reliance on dictionaries has been severely criticized in recent years, the use of multiple dictionaries in historical contexts has provided fruitful information about word usage when it comes to the meaning of terms in the Constitution.

This symposium brings together scholars from all three schools of thought—those advocating the use of corpus analysis, experimental survey studies, and enlightened use of dictionaries—to argue their points and to determine, collectively, how each of these methods might contribute to legal analysis in particular contexts.


Anya Bernstein, Professor of Law, University at Buffalo School of Law

Clark D. Cunningham, Professor of law and W. Lee Burge Chair in Law & Ethics, Georgia State University

Jesse Egbert
, Associate Professor, Applied Linguistics, Northern Arizona University

Edward Finegan, Professor of Linguistics and Law, Emeritus, University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Stefan Th. Greis, Professor of Linguistics, University of California Santa Barbara; Honorary Liebig Professor, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany

Shlomo Klapper, J.D. Candidate (2020), Yale Law School

James A. Macleod
, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School

Stephen C. Mouritsen
, Adjunct Professor of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University; Shareholder, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless

Soren Schmidt, J.D. Candidate (2020), Yale Law School  

Brian Slocum, Professor of Law, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Lawrence Solan, Don Forchelli Professor of Law and Director of Graduate Education, Brooklyn Law School

Tor Tarantola, J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School

Kevin Tobia
, Visiting Fellow, New York University School of Law

Sponsored by the Brooklyn Law Review and the Center for Law, Language and Cognition