Week Seven, Law and Society

Assignments for Week 7:

I.  Read Chapter 6 in your Samaha textbook and Lecture 6 below for this week's quiz. 

II.  Cases in class this week:

            Chapter 6, Myers III v. State

            Chapter 6, State v. Belew

            Chapter 6, State v. K.R.L.

            Chapter 5, State v. Brown

Lecture 6, Legal Culture and Legal Behavior

Legal Culture

1.  Changes in cultural attitudes can lead to changes in law; it is also true that changes in law can influence cultural attitudes.  For example, the American movement toward desegregation reflected the disgust of growing numbers of Americans with segregated society, and this attitude influenced lawmakers. 

2.  American legal culture differs from the legal cultures of other countries; for example, it differs somewhat from the legal culture of England and still more so from that of Japan.  A study of American and Japanese responses to corporate lawbreaking found that Americans are for more likely to favor punishment imposed on individual corporate executives, but Japanese respondents tended to focus more on extracting apologies from these corporate offenders.  We may also be witnessing the emergence of a world legal culture, as we become a global economy and community.

American Legal Culture

1.  Americans tend to respect the rule of law and at the same time are often hostile to lawyers, legal proceedings, and state interventions in private lives.  Americans are obsessed with equal rights and entitlements, while at the same time are described as law fighters.  A study of residents of a New York City suburb found that people go to considerable lengths to resolve grievances without confrontation and without resorting to formal legal action.  Life in the United States is filled with efforts to deny, minimize, contain, and avoid conflict, which challenges the notion that Americans are relentlessly litigious.  

Internal Legal Culture

1.  This term refers to the values and attitudes of those within the legal profession toward law and the legal system.  While considerable overlap exists between the internal legal culture and the popular legal culture, differences can also be identified.  On the whole, the internal legal culture is more committed to the adversarial ethic of defense lawyers making the best possible case, within the rules, for the client, regardless of how heinous the crime the client may have committed, which is different from the general public.  Additionally, those within the legal profession tend to be more oriented toward formal, logical legal reasoning than is the general public, which may be more oriented toward the human or emotional dimension of cases.

2.  In a world moving toward "globalization," researchers have argued that as international trade involving China has increased exponentially and as American-based multinationals are key players in this process, the role of Western formal law has become ever more dominant, and lawyers assume an increasingly central role in business conduct.  In contrast, Richard Appelbaum argues that the eastern preference for informal, extra-legal forms of business will successfully resist the Western, or American, influence.  Appelbaum believes that "guanxi" -- the traditional Chinese reliance upon gift giving and bestowing of favors as a basis for business dealings -- will continue to play a central role in the Eastern world and will not be displaced by formal legal practices.  Guanxi was not successfully repressed by the communist régime and is evident in the new Asian economies.


1.  Those who lobby for new laws, modifications in existing laws, or the repeal of existing laws are not necessarily motivated by moralistic or public interest concerns.  By the end of the 20th century, interest groups were playing an increasingly important role in the lawmaking process in the United States.  Much effective lobbying is carried out on behalf of serious business or professional interests.  Lobbying by a wide range of private interest groups increased exponentially in the recent era.  These lobbying interests may be more successful in blocking unwanted legislation than in initiating new legislation.  Powerful economic interests often have considerable advantages in affecting the legislative process.

Law As Communication

1.  Language is central to legal proceedings.  The words and language of law -- for example, due process, equal protection, criminal intent, beyond a reasonable doubt, and so forth -- may be subjected to endless interpretation and debate about their meaning, expressed in still more words.  Lawyers and judges must learn to choose their words in legal proceedings with great care, and ideally with technical precision, since the choice of one word over another can have immense consequences.  At the same time, lawyers may choose words that will obscure things they did not want to concede. 

2.  The language of ordinary litigants and witnesses is often at odds with the technical legal language lawyers and judges may insist upon, and litigants are frustrated when their attempts to tell their stories in their own terms are interrupted by judges and lawyers insisting they limit themselves to "legally relevant" answers.

The Media

1.  Legislative bodies adopt new laws and judges issue new opinions, and these new laws and opinions have to be communicated to the larger public.  For the most part, this communication takes place through the media, which are quite selective about what they communicate.  Television, in particular, has played a central role in shaping the way people think about legal issues in America, including such issues as abortion, euthanasia, homelessness, sexual abuse, divorce, and parental responsibility.  People also learn about law from other sources: observations and instructions from family and peers; the school curriculum; lessons in church; books; and direct experiences.  What one learns about law from these different sources may be contradictory and not easily reconciled, which contributes to some of the confusion about law.

Legitimation of the Legal System

1.  If people do not believe in some fundamental way that they are obliged to comply with law, then law as an instrument of social control is bound to fail.  When a significant percentage of the population no longer regards the legal system as legitimate, or worthy of their respect and obedience, then there is a legitimacy crisis.  Such a crisis should not be confused with the related crisis in confidence, when a sizable proportion of the population experiences diminishing faith in the system's leadership, although the two types of crises may well affect each other.


1.  Law intersects with culture at many points.  Legal behavior cannot be separated from a consideration of legitimation as it relates to law.    

© Karen Donahue 2017