Thursday, May 30, 2013

Learning to Pay Attention: A Fundamental Legal Skill

One of the biggest problems that law teachers face with the current generation of law students is getting them to pay attention.  R. Lisle Baker & Daniel P. Brown have just posted an excellent article on this topic:

On Engagement: Learning to Pay Attention.

Abstract: In an age of electronic and mental distraction, the ability to pay attention is a fundamental legal skill increasingly important for law students and the lawyers and judges they will become, not only for professional effectiveness, but also to avoid error resulting from distraction. Far from being immutable, engaged attention can be learned. More specifically, with an understanding of how the attention system of the brain works, carefully designed mental practice can over time enhance an individual’s capacity for focused attention, not only psychologically but also over time apparently altering the physical structure within the brain itself. The result can be improved ability for law students to focus attention, to stay calmly on what is intended, without being distracted by irrelevant thought or sense experience, avoiding wasting scarce time and energy otherwise lost to internal or external distraction. Ironically, learning this attentional skill requires temporarily quieting the active process of elaborated thought that law students, lawyers and judges pride themselves on having developed as part of their legal education. In the process, however, a collateral benefit of this practice is also an enhanced ability to be self-aware, hopefully providing law students, lawyers and judges an increased capacity to respond, rather than just react, to legal problems and the human thoughts and emotions that come with them when they arise.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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