Professor Larry Solan, ‘Giant in the Field of Law and Language,’ Dies at 71


Larry Solan pic

The Brooklyn Law School Community deeply mourns the loss of 1901 Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus Larry Solan, who died on Saturday, March 2, at 71. Solan was a pioneering scholar of linguistics and the law, and a highly esteemed member of the faculty for 28 years. 

Joining the Brooklyn Law School 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 Founder and 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. 

On Nov. 3, 2023, Brooklyn Law School’s Center for the Study of Law, Language and Cognition and the Journal of Law and Policy hosted a symposium to celebrate Solan’s significant impact on and contributions to the Law School and to the field as teacher, scholar, and mentor.

Professor James Macleod, the Symposium organizer and new Center Director, said at the celebration that “Larry is a giant in the field of law and language.” Initially intimidated by joining the illustrious Solan as a colleague at Brooklyn Law, Macleod said, he was warmly welcomed. “It’s rare for such an intellectual heavyweight to have such a down-to-earth, friendly disposition. Larry is one-of-a-kind.”

David D. Meyer, President and Joseph Crea Dean of Brooklyn Law School, said that Larry will leave an imprint on Brooklyn Law School that will last for generations. “His kindness and caring – to say nothing of his path-breaking genius as a scholar, his dedication as a teacher, and his visionary pursuit of excellence as an administrator – helped to shape the values that define the Brooklyn Law School community to this day.”

Beginning his professional life with a Ph.D. in linguistics, 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.”

Among Solan’s many scholarly works was 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 also authored numerous articles and book chapters, regularly lectured in the United States and abroad, and served as a visiting professor at Yale Law School and the Psychology Department at Princeton University. He served as president of the International Association of Forensic Linguistics, as a board member at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and on the editorial board of the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. 

Funeral services will be held on Tuesday afternoon in Livingston, New Jersey, and will also be live-streamed. More details can be found here.