Professor Lawrence Solan: Pioneering Scholar of Linguistics and the Law


Larry Solan

At the end of the Spring 2023 semester, three of Brooklyn Law School’s respected professors —Beryl Jones-Woodin, Larry Solan, and Winnie Taylor—announced their retirement. As innovators, scholars, teachers, and colleagues, each has made an enormous impact on our Law School community. Here, we take a look at 1901 Distinguished Professor of Law Larry Solan.

Beginning his professional life with a Ph.D. in linguistics, Professor Lawrence Solan then turned his attention to the study of law, combining the two fields in a brilliant career, first as a litigator, and later teaching and pursuing scholarly work exploring the interdisciplinary issues related to law, language, and psychology, especially in the areas of statutory and contractual interpretation, the attribution of liability and blame, and linguistic evidence.

In his acclaimed 1993 work, The Language of Judges, which is widely recognized as a seminal work on linguistic theory and legal argumentation, Solan wrote of the advice given to him by lawyers who supported his segue from linguistics to law, a less-than-common path at the time: “[So] much of the law is simply a matter of linguistics that the transition from thinking about linguistic theory to thinking about legal matters should be a natural one. Furthermore, they encouraged, my background in linguistics should give me an advantage over those colleagues who have never studied linguistics.”

Currently a 1901 Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, Solan has had a tremendous impact on both Brooklyn Law School and the legal community itself.  

“Larry has been a mentor of mine,” said Professor Michael Cahill, Emeritus President and Dean. “I benefitted greatly from his advice. He has served with distinction and dignity.”

Joining the Brooklyn Law faculty in 1996, after work as a partner at firm Orans, Elsen & Lupert, Solan guided the school variously as Director of Graduate Education, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (2006-2010), and, since 2002, as the Director of the Center for the Study of Law, Language and Cognition. The only one of its kind in the nation, the center is devoted to exploring how developments in the cognitive sciences—including psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics—have dramatic implications for the law at both theoretical and practical levels. 

“Larry is a giant in the field of law and language,” said Professor James Macleod, current director of the Center. “I read his pathbreaking book, The Language of Judges, long before I ever met him. By the time I was coming to Brooklyn Law School to interview, I had read so much of his work and was very intimidated. But as anybody who has met Larry can tell you, he is one of the most kind, gracious, and funny law professors out there. I immediately felt welcomed and valued. I’m sure Larry’s countless students and colleagues over the years know what I mean. It’s rare for such an intellectual heavyweight to have such a down-to-earth, friendly disposition. Larry is one-of-a-kind.” 

Among Solan’s many scholarly works is his recent book, Speaking of Language: Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma (2015; co-edited with Janet Ainsworth and Roger Shuy), which honors the late Loyola School of Law professor Tiersma, Solan’s longtime collaborator (as co-author of Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice [2005] and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law [2012]). Of Solan’s The Language of Statutes: Laws and their Interpretation, (2010), the Law and Politics Book Review wrote, “If there is one text that could potentially bridge the gap between textualism and its critics, this just may be it.”

Solan has also authored numerous articles and book chapters, regularly lectured in the United States and abroad, been a visiting professor at Yale Law School and in the Council of Humanities and the Psychology Department at Princeton University. He has served as president of the International Association of Forensic Linguistics, is on the board of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and the editorial board of the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. 

Solan’s scholarly works was the subject of a Festschrift held in his honor at Brooklyn Law School on Nov. 3.