Friday, May 22, 2020

AALS President Darby Dickerson: Promoting Candor with Critical Thinking

Darby Dickerson has made the power of words her theme for her year as President of AALS.  (here)  In her column in the Spring 2020 AALS News, she writes about Promoting Candor.

She declares, "'Candor' refers to being open and honest, or forthright. Candor has traditionally been central to the legal profession. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct, for example, call for lawyers to 'render candid advice,' exhibit candor toward the tribunal, avoid making false statements of material fact or law to a third person; and, if serving as prosecutors, disclose exculpatory evidence. Candor helps the legal profession earn public trust. It helps us to pursue justice. But the value of candor seems to be eroding, especially in the face of ubiquitous spin control."

She continues, "Because law schools start teaching persuasive techniques in the first year, faculty should develop and use techniques to teach students the value of candor and help them find the line between acceptable persuasion—when an advocate argues zealously, accurately, and honestly for the client—and tactics that can harm their clients, the judicial system, and the profession."

Dean Dickerson next discusses ideas to promote candor: modeling candor in our classrooms, welcoming diverse perspectives, encouraging students to be curious and ask questions, discussing spin and deceptive techniques, incorporating ethical issues into assignments, adding courses on data and statistics to the law school curriculum, teaching information literacy, and doubling down on critical thinking.

Concerning critical thinking she writes, "Professors must ensure that they are teaching students to think critically. Critical thinking is deep thinking that helps us question whether information presented is reliable, fact-based, evidence-based, and unbiased. In February 2020, Scott Fruehwald released How Teach Lawyers, Judges, and Law Students Critical Thinking: Millions Saw the Apple Fall, but Newton Asked Why. In that book, he reminds us that critical thinking can help overcome superficial and biased thinking; help determine when more information is needed; help understand multiple perspectives; and help recognize manipulation. Consequently, helping students master critical thinking is a powerful tool to promote candor."

I am very happy that Dean Dickerson stresses critical thinking as an important part of the law school curriculum, and I thank her for mentioning my book.  True critical thinking is not generally a part of law school teaching, but it needs to be.  I urge all law school professors to incorporate critical thinking into their classes.  Once you understand what critical thinking is, incorporating it is not hard.  It is more like developing a good habit than anything else.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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