Thursday, August 10, 2017

Attracting Students to Law School by Adding Value (New Cognitive Skills) to Legal Education

This week, Shima Baradaran Baughman has written a three-part series on why students should go to law school on the PrawfsBlawg.  One of her arguments is that "Law school teaches you how to see both sides of an argument better than any other degree."  In other words, law school gives students a valuable cognitive skill that is hard to obtain elsewhere.

Shouldn't law schools add to this traditional one?  In other words, aren't there more cognitive skills that law schools can teach its students that are not available elsewhere?  Wouldn't they attract more students if they did this.

In 2013, I wrote a book, Think Like A Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (ABA Pub. 2013) to give students new cognitive skills and to help them develop more fully the ones they already have.  The book began from the insight that law professors need to explain things in greater detail than they usually do in first-year classes.  No more hiding the ball--instead, full understanding.  The book starts with dividing "think like a lawyer" into its parts--deductive reasoning (rule-based reasoning), analogical reasoning, synthesis (inductive reasoning), distinguishing cases and arguments, and policy-based reasoning.  I organize the book around these five-types of legal reasoning and end it with a chapter on problem-solving.  The book contains many exercises so students can work on these skills.

After introducing the five types of legal reasoning in Chapter One, I discuss legal reading and case analysis (briefing) in Chapter Two.  The main thing that this chapter adds to traditional case analysis is that students should identify the type(s) of legal reasoning a judge has used in an opinion.  This forces the students to read cases more carefully and understand them better.

Chapters Three to Five and Eight each treat one of the types of legal reasoning in depth.  Each includes exercises to help students hone their understanding of that particular skill.  Each chapter also shows students how to write up an argument based on that chapter's type of legal reasoning.

Chapter Six covers statutory interpretation in depth.  It illustrates how each type of legal reasoning is involved in statutory interpretation.

Chapter Seven brings the above together by showing how each type of legal reasoning fits into the small-scale paradigm for organizing a legal argument.  In other words, legal writing is inseparable from the types of legal reasoning.  (Legal writing teachers have always said that legal writing is inseparable from legal analysis.  Now, I have shown this in greater detail.)

The final chapter applies the five-types of legal reasoning in the context of problem-solving.  I give students a detailed problem-solving method, discuss the role of creativity in problem-solving, and ask the students to solve advanced problems, including think-aloud exercises.

The main point of the above is that law schools can attract more students by teaching them more valuable skills.  In particular, professors need to teach legal reasoning in much greater depth.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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