I have recently issued a new edition of my book How to Think Like A Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals. In this post, I will present why I wrote this book, and how this book can help law students become better legal thinkers.
My book helps law students and lawyers develop their cognitive legal-thinking skills in depth through self-correcting exercises. This book prepares law students for the practice of law by providing them with a firm foundation in legal reasoning, showing them how to apply legal reasoning skills to facts, and teaching them legal problem solving. It does this by focusing explicitly on the five types of legal reasoning (rule-based reasoning, analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases and arguments, synthesis, and policy-cased reasoning), the types of miniskills needed to develop the different types of legal reasoning, and how to use these miniskills in combination.
Why is this important? Becoming an expert in any field requires many hours of detailed practice. This applies to chess masters, musicians, athletes, and lawyers. A pianist spends hours a week practicing musical fundamentals, such as fingering, scales, arpeggios, and phrasing. Aspiring lawyers need the same thing, but they don’t get it from traditional legal education. Traditional law school pedagogy deals with exercising the mind of one student at a time, while the other students sit and listen. What students need are self-correcting exercises that give them the constant practice they need. This type of self-guided active learning is especially important now when so much of the fall semester will be taught online.
Of course, the exercises and other pedagogical techniques need to be based on the latest research on how the mind works. I have based my exercises and other materials on research on learning and the neurobiology of learning. E.g., Peter C. Brown et.al., Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014); Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011); Duane F. Shell et.al., The Unified Learning Model: How Motivational, Cognitive, and Neurobiological Sciences Inform Best Teaching Practices (2010); Susan A. Ambrose et.al., How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (2010); William M. Sullivan et.al., Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (2007); Roy Stuckey et al., Best Practices in Legal Education (2007); Michael Hunter Schwartz, Teaching Law by Design: How Learning Theory and Instructional Design Can Inform and Reform Law Teaching, 38 San Diego L. Rev. 347 (2001).
While these exercises help all law students, they will be particularly helpful to those students who start out behind because of socio-economic circumstances. What better way to help such students than to educate lawyers as completely as we can so they can help their clients and to help students be fully prepared for the bar exam by teaching cognitive skills explicitly.