According to Cicourel (1968: 17), ‘The use of a dictionary for the analysis of written reports or documents assumes the researcher can legitimately impute the abstract or disengaged meanings of the dictionary to the text, thus suspending the relevance of meanings in their situational context.’ In other words, a ruling goes through a formalization and disembodiment process, the final result of which hides the many negotiations, compromises, re-writings, omissions, over-and underdeterminations that were necessary to its production. Consequently, even though people involved in a judicial process are oriented to a single legal system, one cannot observe or describe their actual orientations on the basis of a formalized and polished document, which reflects only the narrative process that gave the facts their legal relevance, that is, their characterization. This chapter will present formal law, i.e. law on the books, on one hand, and, on the other, will emphasize the severe limitations the study of this type of texts alone necessarily imposes.