The American Bar Association (ABA), law students, and employers are demanding that law schools do better when teaching legal research. Academic critics are demanding that law professors begin to apply the lessons from the science of learning to improve student outcomes. The practice of law is changing.
Yet, the data shows that law schools are not changing their legal research curriculum to respond to the need of their students or to address the ABA’s mandate. This stagnation comes at the same time as an explosion in legal information and a decrease in technical research skills among incoming students. This article explores the tension law schools face in changing their curriculum, how schools will need to respond as they begin to assess legal research competencies, and the best ways for them to respond to the changes in the legal research landscape. Importantly, as the landscape changes, law schools can easily apply the lessons from cognitive psychology to improve their students’ legal research skills.
Simply, students learn and retain best when they have spaced, varied, and interleaved practice with skills and knowledge. Thus, adding research discussion, lessons, or activities to courses across the curriculum would have little cost in terms of finances, minimal costs in terms of faculty time, and would not necessitate jettisoning doctrinal content from any course. Instead, this straightforward change in the delivery method of content would lead to better outcomes for students in both doctrinal knowledge and research skills. The time for changing the edges of law school curriculums or to adding more mandatory or even optional courses is past. Law schools can apply the lessons from cognitive psychology to produce better learning and transfer.
Research Across the Curriculum: Using Cognitive Science to Answer the Call for Better Legal Research Instruction,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlr/vol125/iss1/2
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