Elizabeth Mertz

Professor Emerita; John and Rylla Bosshard


Ph.D., Duke University (Anthropology)
J.D., Northwestern University School of Law


Joint Appointment with American Bar Foundation 

Professor Mertz is a leading legal anthropologist, and a pioneer in the field of law and language.  She uses this background to study legal language in the United States, with a special focus on law school education.  Her research also examines the problems involved in translating between law and social science, particularly in the domain of family law.  In addition to her position on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, she is a Senior Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, where she has conducted empirical research on legal education.  The results of this research have appeared in numerous journals and edited collections.  Her book, The Language of Law School:  Learning to "Think Like a Lawyer" (Oxford University Press) was 2008 co-winner of the Herbert Jacob Book Prize, awarded by the Law & Society Association for "distinguished work that fulfills the high expectations of interdisciplinary scholarship that define this association."  Mertz's study has drawn national attention from scholars interested in reforming the current system of legal education in the U.S.

As a law student, Professor Mertz won the John Paul Stevens Prize for graduating first in her class, the Lowden-Wigmore Prize for best student-written law review article, and the Wigmore Fellowship.  She clerked for Judge Richard D. Cudahy, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and served as a PILI Fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law.  Before attending law school, she earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Duke University and held the position of Project Director for the Law & Language Project at the Center for Psychosocial Studies, in Chicago.

In recognition of her work at the intersection of law and social science, Professor Mertz was elected a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, as well as Treasurer of the Law & Society Association.  She served for many years as Editor of Law & Social Inquiry, and was Editor of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review from 2007 to 2011.  From 2010-2011 she was the Katherine and Martin Crane Fellow at the Princeton University Program in Law and Public Affairs, where she taught an undergraduate course on law & language as well as a graduate seminar on linguistic anthropology. In 2013, she was a Visiting Professor in Princeton's Anthropology Department, where she taught courses on language and culture, and on "expertise in translation." Her writings on family violence and law, legal translations, and other topics have appeared in such publications as the Harvard Law Review, Law & Society Review, and the Annual Review of Anthropology.  Along with other scholars, she is active in the New Legal Realism Project (www.newlegalrealism.org), which spearheaded a collaborative research network on "Realist and Empirical Methods" under the aegis of the Law & Society Association.  She is also a co-organizer of the LSA's IRC on International Legal Education.

Professor Mertz has taught courses in legal process, family law, and the sociology of law at Wisconsin, and she collaborates with Professor Mansfield in developing combined clinical and social science training for UW law students.  

Recent Books

  • [Mertz, ed.] The Use of Social Science in Legal Decisions  (Ashgate, 2008)
  • The Language of Law School:  Learning to "Think" Like a Lawyer  (Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • [Macaulay, Friedman, & Mertz, eds.]  Law in Action:  A Socio-Legal Reader (Thomson-West, 2007)
  • [Greenhouse, Mertz, & Warren, eds.] Transforming States: Ethnographies of Subjectivity and Agency in Changing Political Contexts.  (Duke University Press, 2006)

Selected Recent Publications

  • "Law's Metalinguistics:  Silence, Speech, and Action.  In Speaking of Language and Law:  Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma.  eds. L. Solan & R. Shuy.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press (2014 in press) 
  • "Law-and-Language Scholarship:  New Frontiers for Interdisciplinary Legal Studies?"  2014 Annual Review of Law & Social Science (2014 in press) [with Jothie Rajah]
  • "New Legal Realism and the Empirical Turn in Law."  Introduction to Law and Social Theory, eds. R. Banakar & M. Travers, at 195.  Oxford:  Hart Publishing. (2013) [with Stewart Macaulay]
  • "Semiotics."  Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology, R.J. McGee and R.L. Warms, eds., at 763. London:  Sage (2013).
  • "Jane Larson's Sociological Jurisprudence. [Introduction to Symposium in honor of Professor Jane Larson], 28 Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender and Society 111 (2013)
  • "Is It Fair?  Law Professors' Perceptions of Tenure." 61 Journal of Legal Education 511 (2012) [with Katherine Barnes]
  • "Comparative Anthropology of Law."  Comparative Law and Society, D. Clark, ed., at 77. Cheltenham:  Edward Elgar Publishing. (2012) [with Mark Goodale]
  • "Undervaluing Indeterminacy:  Legal Translations of Social Science." 60 DePaul Law Review 397 (2011)
  • "Social Science and the First Apprenticeship:  Moving the Intellectual Mission of Law Schools Forward." 17 Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 427 (2011)
  • "After Tenure: Senior Status in the Legal Academy (Phase I Report) [with Frances Tung, Kathering Barnes, Wamucii Njogu, Molly Heiler, and Joanne Martin] (2011) Available on the American Bar Foundation website at http://www.americanbarfoundation.org/publications/367

Scholarship & Publications


Law Repository

Research Interests

  • Legal education, legal profession
  • Law & social science, legal anthropology
  • Family law, violence in families
  • The new legal realism, translating law


  • Elizabeth Mertz participated in “The Law School as a White Space?” in November. The web panel was organized by the Center on Race, Law and Justice at Fordham University School of Law.

  • Elizabeth Mertz co-wrote “Law in Reality, Law in Context: On the Work and Influence of Stewart Macaulay” with Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Friedman. Their essay appears in the book, "Stewart Macaulay: Selected Works," published in 2020.

  • Elizabeth Mertz appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Researching Law, published by the American Bar Foundation. The issue is devoted to the origins of the modern criminal justice paradigm and the ABF Survey on Criminal Justice Foundation. It celebrates ABF's foundational connection with UW Law, and its influence on pioneering works by Frank Remington and Herman Goldstein.

  • Elizabeth Mertz's book, "Power, Legal Education and Law School Cultures" (co-edited with Meera E. Deo and Mindie Lazarus-Black), was published by Routledge in October 2019. The book includes Mertz's article, "Canaries in the Mines of the U.S Legal Academy."

  • Elizabeth Mertz posted "Is it Fair? Law Professors' Perceptions of Tenure," forthcoming in the Journal of Legal Education, on SSRN. The study combines a national survey of tenured law professors and in-depth follow-up interviews with 95 of those professors. Although most professors thought the tenure process was fair, the study found that female professors and professors of color perceived the tenure process as more difficult and less fair than did their male and white colleagues.

  • Elizabeth Mertz co-wrote Toward a New Legal Empiricism: Empirical Legal Studies and New Legal Realism" (with Mark Suchman), for the December 2010 edition of the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. The article was "highly recommended" on the Legal Theory Blog, which describes it as a "compact and elegant paper."

  • Elizabeth Mertz presented on the topic of legal education in the Faculty Colloquium at American University's Washington College of Law in March 2010. She also gave a presentation "Undervaluing Indeterminacy: Legal Translations of Social Science" at the DePaul University College of Law's annual Clifford Symposium in April.

  • Elizabeth Mertz spoke on “The Myth of Transparent Translation” on October 9, 2009, at the Brown University Legal Studies Seminar, an interdisciplinary colloquium series featuring cutting-edge research on law and legal institutions from a wide range of vantage points across the social sciences and humanities.

  • Elizabeth Mertz was a panel participant at the conference “YES WE CArNegie: Change in Legal Education Since the Carnegie Report,” at John Marshall Law School on July 29, 2009. Mertz spoke on  “legal analysis – or the intellectual apprenticeship in legal education.” Her book The Language of Law School was extensively cited in the 2007 Carnegie Report, which drew national attention to the need for reform in U.S. legal education.

  • Elizabeth Mertz delivered the lecture “Translating Social Science in Legal Arenas: The Myth of Transparency” at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law on February 19, 2009, as part of the 2008-09 Colloquium, “New Directions in Law & Society Scholarship: Engaging with Empiricism.”

Teaching Areas

  • Family Law
  • Law & Society
  • Legal Education
  • Legal Processes
no courses found
Lock iconProfile Admin