Susan Shapcott (Bath), Sarah Davis (Wisconsin) & Lane Hanson (Wisconsin), The Jury Is In: Law Schools Foster Students’ Fixed Mindsets, 42 Law & Psychol. Rev. 1 (2018):
The legal education community remains concerned with the resiliency of law students and lawyers. In other fields, a growing body of research suggests that students' mindsets are linked to their resilience, and it is assumed that the findings will hold in legal education. However, to date, there has been no empirical research to support these assumptions. This article describes an empirical study of law students' mindsets based on responses from 425 students at six law schools across the United States. Our results unveil a troubling trend in law students' mindsets at different stages of the law school experience.
This article reports our findings that law schools may foster maladaptive mindsets in their students. It also offers some pedagogical interventions that might counter this trend and points law schools in a direction that could not only improve performance, but also students' resiliency as they move from law school into legal practice. It is written from the normative position that fixed mindsets are maladaptive and growth mindsets should be fostered. Based upon research to be outlined, this article subscribes to a belief that when law students are struggling—an inevitable part of law school and practicing law—their mindset will differentiate their ability to learn from mistakes, persist, and remain resilient.
Findings are shared within the context of existing research and offered as a bridge to applying that research to the law school experience. Section I outlines how law students and lawyers respond to the stress of lawyering. Section II reviews existing generalized data on mindsets and maladaptive behavior and the links to mental health and resilience. Section III shares our contributions to the field: the results of our study on law student mindsets. Lastly, Section IV offers a discussion of the application of our evidence, including limitations, outlines questions it raises, and posits crucial next steps for evaluation and changes in law school teaching.
Carrie Sperling (Wisconsin), New Research on Law-Student Resiliency:
Many educators are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work and the concept of mindsets; when students perceive intelligence as an innate trait that one either has or doesn’t have, this is a referred to as a fixed mindset. At the other end of the spectrum, perceiving intelligence as something that develops with effort, strategy and time is referred to as a growth mindset. ...
Students’ well-being won’t change much until law schools work to change the culture from within. Law school classrooms that help students develop growth, not fixed mindsets will do more for students’ resiliency and long-term growth. This starts with faculty members reframing how intelligence and lawyering skills are described (they are learned skills, not innate gifts). When faculty share their own vulnerabilities and struggles to grasp concepts, they create a classroom culture where students are less afraid to ask for help. And when professors give accurate feedback intended to teach students how and what is required for them to improve, rather than simply judging their intelligence, they will help create a growth-mindset culture that reduces students’ stress and increases their strategies for manage their learning experience