Law and Corpus Linguistics Program Appoints Two Research Fellows

August 9, 2018

PROVO, Utah, Oct. 18, 2017 – BYU Law, a leading national law school focused on innovation in Corpus Linguistics, Entrepreneurship, Social Justice and Religious Freedom, announces the appointment of James A. Heilpern and Sara White as Corpus Linguistics Research Fellows.

These two new fulltime fellowship positions, made possible by a grant, were created as part of the school’s commitment to pioneering the emerging field of the Law and Corpus Linguistics, a methodology for understanding the meaning of words by analyzing naturally occurring language in large collections of texts called “corpora.” The Research Fellows will support fulltime BYU Law faculty chosen to oversee development of the corpus linguistics program, including Dean Gordon Smith and professors John Fee, D. Carolina Núñez and Michalyn Steele. This investment is part of a range of new appointments, platforms and programs being developed around this emerging area of the law.

“Legal scholars, professionals and judges have only scratched the surface of corpus linguistics’ potential impact on the legal profession; our investments today will support the court decisions of tomorrow,” said Gordon Smith, Dean of BYU Law School. “We are pleased to welcome James and Sara, each of whom brings a unique skillset to BYU Law in the area of corpus linguistics and the law. Having these fellows on board fulltime enables BYU Law to further our work in this important new area poised to drive a nationwide dialogue around the legal implications of corpus linguistics.”

BYU Law is building the Corpus of Supreme Court of the United States (COSCOTUS) and the Corpus of Founding era American English (COFEA), which examines the meaning of words at the time the Constitution was drafted. For the past four years, BYU Law has offered the only course on law and corpus linguistics in the United States. BYU Law is also facilitating discussions about and application of corpus linguistics within the law with symposiums, workshops and soon-to-be-released online tools and platforms for corpus research and practical corpus use.

“It’s not every day that something really new comes along that has the opportunity to transform the legal profession in the way that corpus linguistics has the potential to do,” said Heilpern. “This is an exciting opportunity to play a critical role in this new and emerging field – furthering BYU Law’s leadership and groundbreaking work in the area of corpus linguistics and the law.”

In his role as Law and Corpus Linguistics Fellow, James A. Heilpern will work with BYU Law faculty to generate academic writing, scholarship and amicus curiae briefs pertaining to the legal corpus linguistics field. He will also support BYU Law in developing and teaching seminars, workshops, boot camps and other programs to familiarize the legal community with the use of corpus linguistics.

Prior to joining BYU Law as a Fellow, Heilpern clerked for two federal judges – the Honorable Edith Brown Clement on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans and the Honorable Robert H. Cleland on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. His legal work experience includes working for the Utah Supreme Court and the Criminal Appeals Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office. He has presented on topics related to law and corpus linguistics at academic conferences in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Heilpern earned his Juris Doctor degree from BYU Law in 2015, where he served as Lead Articles Editor for the BYU Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif. He received his Bachelor of Science in Archaeology with a minor in Ancient Greek from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated with highest honors and with distinction. Originally from Charlotte, NC, he recently relocated to the Provo area from New Orleans with his wife and son.

“This appointment enables me to dedicate myself fulltime to actively developing the COSCOTUS and COFEA, as well as future corpora needs,” said White, who worked on the Supreme Court and Founders corpora part-time as a Teaching Assistant. “Many legal questions hinge on being able to interpret a word in a law; by further developing these legal corpora, we are providing lawyers, judges and legal professional with better resources to interpret the meaning of words, which have the potential to affect everyone’s rights.”

Sara White will aid in the design and development of the legal corpora and the corpora methodology, help organize law and linguistics conferences at BYU Law, develop a corporate linguistics training program for faculty and students, and work with law professionals to write and publish content about the combination of law and linguistics. She will work closely with professors and faculty to highlight how corpus linguistics can be used in legal matters.
Prior to her appointment as a fulltime Corpus Linguistics Research Fellow, White was a Teaching Assistant in the Brigham Young University (BYU) Linguistics Department. Outside academia, she has corporate and agency public relations experience. She also has served as an English-to-Indonesian interpreter and translator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other clients. In 2011 she received a Fulbright-Hayes Group Project grant to attend Satya Wacana Christen University in Indonesia. White has had more than 25 articles published in BYU’s The Daily Universe. She earned a Master’s in Linguistics from BYU earlier this year; her thesis topic was corpus language planning theory of Indonesian pronouns. White also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from BYU in 2012. She resides in Provo.

About BYU Law School

Founded in 1971, the J. Reuben Clark Law School has grown into one of the nation’s leading law schools – recognized for innovative research and teaching in Corpus Linguistics, Entrepreneurship, Social Change, and Religious Freedom. The Law School has more than 6,000 alumni who now are serving in communities around the world. In its most recent rankings, SoFi ranked BYU Law as the #1 best-value US law school in their 2017 Return on Education Law School Ranking. For more information visit