TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Christensen: Lawyering Skills Grades as the Strongest Predictor of Law School Success

Leah M. Christensen (Thomas Jefferson) has published The Power of Skills: An Empirical Study of Lawyering Skills Grades as the Strongest Predictor of Law School Success (or in Other Words, It's Time for Legal Education to Get Serious About Integrating Skills Training Throughout the Law School Curriculum If We Care About How Our Students Learn.), 83 St. John's L. Rev. 795 (2009). Here is part of the Conclusion:

It is time to end the longstanding divide between skills and doctrine in legal education, and it is time for legal education to go beyond training students to simply “think like a lawyer.” The results of the study discussed in this Article suggest that skills classes may enhance the learning and success of law students. In this study, Lawyering Skills Grade were the strongest predictor of law school success. Further, those law students who received higher grades in Lawyering Skills were more likely to be mastery-goal-oriented; and mastery-goal-oriented students tended to be the most successful students in law school. Based upon the results of this study, the best advice we can give to our beginning law students is to devote a significant amount of time and energy to their skills classes. Further, as law schools begin to consider how to reform their curricula in accordance with the Carnegie report, they need to consider the importance of skills classes to their students’ overall learning and success. ...

There is no doubt that legal educators have the difficult task of preparing students for the practice of law. Graduating law students should be prepared to serve their clients in terms of both the substantive law and the application of the law in practical settings. Legal educators are obligated to help students acquire these core foundational skills: written and oral communication, research, critical and analytical thinking, and cooperation with colleagues.

As legal education evolves, I envision a law school curriculum that values and incorporates professional skills with doctrine and a curriculum that stresses competence over performance. The law school curriculum as a whole should emphasize knowledge accrued over time versus knowledge accrued quickly for an exam—and then forgotten. As law professors, our mission is to equip the next generation of lawyers with the tools they need to practice law competently and professionally. If we are truly willing to undertake this mission then we need to commit to integrating skills and doctrine more fully. This type of mastery goal structure (versus the current performance goal structure of legal education) would prepare our students far better to be lawyers. In addition, legal educators should strive to use teaching methodologies that incorporate problem-based learning, cooperative learning, and right-brain learning; this type of teaching will enhance our students’ success in all of their law school classes. And it will prepare our students more effectively to serve their clients and to face the challenges inherent in the practice of law.

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