Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Helping Minority Students Succeed in Law School

Retired Dean Arthur Frakt has posted some thoughts on law school admissions and the bar on the Faculty Lounge.  I thought that this excerpt was particularly relevant to legal education today:

"What I have come to conclude over my years in legal education is that applicants do not have to be brilliant LSAT takers to attain success in law school, at the bar exam, and in practice.  Whether a majority or minority applicant, if an individual has an LSAT score at or near the median and has demonstrated serious application of his or her abilities to undergraduate studies as reflected by good grades in challenging courses, a legal education is a very reasonable graduate program for him or her to pursue.  On the other hand, when an applicant's LSAT scores fall much below the 40% level, the ability to apply legal reasoning and solve legal problems is greatly diminished and he or she might be well advised to pursue another professional program for which his or her talents are better suited.

In sum, there is, in my opinion, great merit in a law school which offers an opportunity to students with modest aptitude but with proven dedication to undertake a challenging curriculum taught by dedicated professors.  These students must understand  it is not enough to merely get by with minimal grades and they cannot rely on either luck or last minute bar cramming to succeed."

I agree with Dean Frakt's conclusion.  While there is a minimum for success in law school, almost every student a law school admits should be able to do well in law school as long as they are willing to work hard and are taught in the right way.

However, law schools are generally not teaching in a way that leads to success for students from disadvantaged groups.  First, law schools must help students from disadvantaged groups overcome the "fixed" mindset, which is the idea that students are born with all the intelligence they will ever have and that working hard is a waste of time.  Recent research has shown that intelligence is not immutable, but that intelligence can be improved.  (Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006))  Consequently, law schools need to instill a growth mindset in their students–that with effort and the proper approach any student that is qualified to enter law school can succeed in law school and become a competent lawyer.

New approaches to teaching and learning need to be added to the growth mindset.   First, many students come into law school lacking metacogntive skills.  (Metacognition is thinking about thinking.)  Therefore, they often approach learning in an ineffective and inefficient manner.  Law schools need to teach students better study skills and how to better listen and learn in the classroom.  They also need to teach students how to develop strategies and how to make strategic choices.

Law professors also need to develop better teaching techniques for the classroom.  General education scholarship has demonstrated that students remember more and can more effectively use their knowledge with active learning.  Accordingly, law professors should frequently use problem-solving exercises in their classes, and simulations and clinics are vital for the second and third years of law school.

The above just scratches the surface on how law schools and law professors can help students that enter law school in the bottom of their class.  (more here)

If law schools truly want to help minority students and send them out into the world to do justice, they must make the commitment to better educate these students.  While minority students can succeed in law school and become successful lawyers, it will require change and hard work by students, law schools, and professors.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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