Sunday, May 22, 2016
Teaching Remedial Problem-Solving Skills to a Law School's Underperforming Students by John F. Murphy
Yesterday, Jim had a post on a legal education symposium in the Nevada Law Journal. Today, I will feature one of those articles.
"This article describes a course called the 'Art of Lawyering' developed by the Texas A&M University School of Law to help the bottom quarter of the 2L class develop the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they should have learned in their first year of law school. Students in the bottom quarter of the class at the beginning of their 2L year are most at risk for failing the bar exam after graduation. The Art of Lawyering gives these students the structural framework necessary to solve problems like a lawyer, improve their performance in law school, and pass the bar exam.
The course, in its current iteration, is remarkably effective, producing a significant increase in students’ grade-point averages. This article describes the theory, methods, and resources behind the course, and it includes a detailed lesson plan so that other schools can replicate the course and realize similar success."
"However, students with lower admissions indicators can learn to perform as well on lawyering tasks as students with higher indicators, but imparting those skills requires additional effort on the part of the academy."
"The ultimate goal of the Art of Lawyering is to identify and remedy whatever deficiencies prevent the students from performing at a higher level. More specifically, the class teaches students to solve problems the way lawyers solve problems, and apply those techniques to law school exams, the bar exam, and, eventually, the practice of law. The class is not strictly academic support; nor is it a rehash of the 1L legal analysis, research, and writing (LARW) classes. But it does combine aspects of both of those classes."
"The Art of Lawyering’s basic plan is simple: the students solve problem after problem of increasing complexity. Repetition is the crux of the course’s method; the more problems the class can work through, the better. Unlike the five or six problems spread over two semesters in first-year legal analysis and writing classes, Art of Lawyering students write twenty or more memos in a single semester. The memos are shorter and less complex than a full-blown LARW office memo, but brevity means more memos and more opportunities to work through the problem-solving process—and less time grading for the professor."
"The problem-solving process taught in the Art of Lawyering has six steps: (1) Identify the issue or the call of the question; (2) Identify the applicable rule or rules; (3) Parse the rule into its component parts—usually elements or factors or a combination of the two; (4) Match the hypothetical facts to the parts of the rule. What part of the rule does a given fact “trigger” or implicate? Students should attempt to “find a home” for every fact; that is, identify the part or parts of the rule that are conceivably relevant to that fact. If a fact has no “home,” it is probably irrelevant; (5) Write a rule-based analysis—that is, the parts of the rule should dictate the writing’s structure. Discuss one part of the rule at a time, and discuss all of the facts relevant to that part of the rule before moving onto the next; (6) Draw an ultimate conclusion only after completing the first five steps. Writing is a form of thinking, and a conclusion is more likely to be correct if drawn after the bulk of the writing process is complete."
"While underperforming students struggle with all six steps, the third and fourth are the most troublesome—largely because the students skip these steps altogether and go directly from identifying the rule to writing an application. Therefore, the Art of Lawyering emphasizes steps three and four."
Professor Murphy then goes into detail on how he and his colleagues teach the course.
I underlined the passage above because it states the same position I have been advocating for several years--that law schools can help students with poor educational backgrounds do significantly better in law school. (here) Legal education reform will help all students, but it will help those who come from poor educational backgrounds the most.
Professor Murphy has also presented an excellent problem-solving model. Of course, genius is in the details so you need to read the entire article.
If law schools are going to continue to accept students with low indicators, they need to better educate those students. Law schools can't make every student an effective lawyer, but they can do a much better job with many of their pupils.