Peter M. Tiersma

Professor of Law
Hon. William Matthew Byrne, Jr. Chair

BA, with distinction, Stanford University, Phi Beta Kappa
JD, University of California Berkeley, Order of the Coif
PhD, University of California San Diego 


Peter Tiersma received a Ph.D. in linguistics and taught that subject at both the University of California, San Diego, and Miami University of Ohio. Later he attended law school at Boalt Hall (U.C. Berkeley), where he was an associate editor of the California Law Review. Following graduation, Tiersma served as law clerk to Justice Stanley Mosk of the California Supreme Court. He held positions at law firms in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Tiersma joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1990. He was the director of International Programs at Loyola Law School.  He ws also a member of the jury instruction advisory committees of the California Judicial Council.

Selected Scholarship

  • The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (co-edited with Lawrence Solan; Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Parchment, Paper, Pixels: Law and the Technologies of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
  • Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005) (with Lawrence Solan)
  • Legal Language (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
  • “A History of Languages of the Law,” in Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (2012)..
  • “Language Policy in the United States,”in Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (2012).
  • “Asking Jurors To Do the Impossible,”  5 Tenn. J. Law & Policy 105 (2009).
  • “What is Language and Law? And Does Anyone Care?,” in Law and Language: Theory and Society (Frances Olsen, Alexander Lorz, & Dieter Stein eds., 2008).
  • "The Textualization of Precedent," 82 Notre Dame Law Review 1189 (2007).
  • “Communicating with Juries: How to Draft More Understandable Jury Instructions,” (National Center for State Courts 2006).
  • "Some Myths About Legal Language," 2 Law, Culture and Humanities 29 (2006).
  • "The Language Of Legal Texts," in Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd Ed., Keith Brown (ed.), 2006).
  • "Language Wars Truce Accepted (with Conditions)," 8 Green Bag 2d 281 (2005).
  • "Categorical Lists in the Law," in Vagueness in Normative Texts (Vijay K. Bhatia, Jan Engberg, Maurizio Gotti, and Dorothee Heller eds., 2005).
  • "Did Clinton Lie? Defining 'Sexual Relations'," 79 Chicago Kent Law Review 927 (2004).
  • "Cops and Robbers: Selective Literalism in American Criminal Law," 38 Law and Society Review 229 (2004) (with Lawrence Solan)
  • "Hearing Voices: Speaker Identification in American Courts," 54 Hastings Law Journal 373 (2003) (coauthored with Lawrence Solan).
  • "A Message in a Bottle: Text, Autonomy and Statutory Interpretation," 76 Tulane Law Review 431 (2001)
Representative Academic Presentations
  • Presentation: “The Role of Language in American Trials.”  Chinese University of Political Science and Law, Beijing, China (June, 2011).
  • Presentation.  “The Rule of Text: Is it Possible to Govern Using only Written Text?  New York University, symposium of Journal of Law and Liberty (February, 2011).
  • Presentation.  “Meaning and the Technologies of Communication”.  Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen (June, 2010).
  • Keynote address:  “Law and the Technologies of Communication.” Seconda Universitá degli Studi di Napoli (June 2010).
  • Presentation, “What is Language and Law? And Does Anyone Care?” Conference on Language and Law, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Dusseldorf, Germany (co-sponsored by UCLA Law School) (May 2006).
  • Presentation, “A Brief History of Jury Instructions.” American Judicature Society, mid-year meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana (March 2005).
  • Presentation, “The Pragmatics of Police/Suspect Encounters.” Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, Oakland, California (January 2005).

Public Service

  • President, International Association of Forensic Linguists (2005-2007)
  • Member, California Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions (2005-)
  • Member, Committee of Social and Political Concerns, Linguistic Society of America (2006-2009)
  • Member, Panel of Academic Consultants, Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)
  • Member, California Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Civil Jury Instructions (2003-)
  • Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Speech, Language, and Law (2004-)