Law and e-society. The new paradigm of discourse


Years ago, Jerzy Starościak, a professor of administrative law, opened one of his books with the statement: “thick books on narrow issues are gone.” This was not true then, and is still not true today. Thick, analytical books will always be needed; enabling lawyers to develop their skills. Nonetheless, it is true that “thick books” have lost their monopoly in the legal discourse, as the discourse itself and its participants have changed.

Currently, the law is an area of interest not merely for expert lawyers, which was the rule years ago. First of all, politicians have discovered (with great enthusiasm) the possibility of manipulation by using the law. This has entailed a demand for knowledge on law in a nutshell – the knowledge ready to be used for immediate purposes. In turn, the media – currently looking for “content” (not necessarily information, but rather sensation and entertainment – “infotainment”) – has also become interested in legal matters to an unprecedented extent. For them too, “thick legal books” are utterly useless. Information on law and the legal discourse has therefore found itself in a paradoxical position. On one level, the huge demand for law and law-related information has increased. On another level, however, this increased demand is skewed towards a different kind of information: not expert, serious “thick” books, but short, sound bites of information that can be easily packaged into “news”, or wielded as a political mace.

Currently, the law is an area of interest not merely for expert lawyers, which was the rule years ago.

As a response to this demand, apart from thick, legal books we are starting to see also the appearance of legal blogs, websites and electronic services of various kinds. Sources of this kind provide material more suited for the media and politics. This occurrence is beneficial also for the traditional specialist discourse between lawyers. The refreshment of the medium has accelerated discourse and led it onto different lines (see also: Let’s start!). It has been broadened into political and media spheres. Even if we are concerned that the law and legal doctrine are being dumbed down (or even becoming grotesque), at the same time the expansion of discourse is leading lawyers to leave the areas limited by the traditional analytical jurisprudence. In this way, the change of a medium impacts the change of legal discourse: its methods, scope and participants.

The websites on legal issues are requiring lawyers to go beyond the frames of their discourse existing up to now, considered as the traditional Begriffjurisprudenz. The focus on analysing texts and finding hidden meanings still remains the domain of “thick books”. However, what is new, fresh and still being sketched out, what is going on in law and jurisprudence as a result of changes within social mechanisms and social communication and, finally, what was previously not considered mature enough to be introduced into legal discourse – is now finding its way onto websites.

Posted on by Ewa Łętowska in General Issues

About the author

Ewa Łętowska
Ewa Łętowska

Professor of private law in the Institute of Legal Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and an Ordinary Member of the Academy, a Corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Académie de Droit Comparé, a former judge on the Constitutional Tribunal and previously of the Supreme Administrative Court, and in 1987 - 1992 the first Ombudsman in Poland.