Law Student Study Habits Survey

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First Year students at Seattle University School of Law are invited to participate in a voluntary survey to identify which law study habits are linked to better learning outcomes in law school.

Professor Jennifer Cooper, in collaboration with Dr. Regan A.R. Gurung (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), has developed a brief survey about law student study behaviors. Your participation is confidential and voluntary and takes 5 minutes.

Take the Law Student Study Habits Survey 

Questions? Contact Professor Cooper at

First-year legal writing mistakes & how to avoid them

Student LawyerIn undergrad, you were a term paper pro. You could crank out thought-provoking three- to five-page term papers replete with resplendent prose and droll, pithy observations, impressing your professors by transforming minutiae into master­pieces. You razzle-dazzled them with all your word bling.

In law school, no one is impressed by your word bling. Less is more, especially when it gets right down to business. Legal writers are rewarded for conciseness, precision, sophisticated analysis, and ef­fective communication.

Hot tips for new (and not so new) legal writers in my recent article, First-year legal writing mistakes & how to avoid them, in the January 2016 edition of the ABA Student Lawyer. New legal writers often carry college writing tactics with them to law school like inflating ideas, using fancy words (word bling!), and “more is more.” This idea inflation conflates with students wanting to “sound like a lawyer,” cranking out papers loaded with legalese and quotations.

My article suggests a few easy fixes: cut to the chase, use your words, and lead your reader. Read all about it here.

Illusions of Competence: Obstacles to Learning & Which Learning Strategies Really Work

Illusions of competence are obstacles to learning. Yet, learners are unaware of the existence of such illusions or their own susceptibility to them. Such is the nature of illusions, right?

Learners unwittingly develop illusions of competence by an over relying on ineffective, passive learning strategies such as rereading, rote memorization, and cramming study. These illusions of competence made students believe that they have learned because the information seems familiar; therefore, it is perceived to be well learned. Research from cognitive science tells a much different story. Illusions of competence make learning “feel” successful, but actually impede learning.

Learners must dispel these illusions by incorporating active, research-based learning strategies such as spacing study, retrieval & self-testing, and interleaving. The research findings supporting these active learning strategies are robust and well summarized by two recent books, Make It Stick and How We Learn. Both books are excellent resources for educators and are highly recommended, but do not directly apply to legal education.

There is help for legal educators! My recent article, Illusions of Competence: Using Empirical Research on Undergraduate Study Behaviors to Maximize Law Learning, available for download on SSRN here, summarizes these research findings and makes concrete recommendations to legal educators to use these research based learning strategies in their classrooms.

Reflective Practice in Legal Education: “Debriefing” Our Work

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

So begins Tim Casey’s recent article, Reflective Practice in Legal Education: The Stages of Reflection, published in the Clinical Law Review. I recently had the pleasure of witnessing Casey’s presentation on Reflecting Practice in Legal Education at the Legal Writing Institute’s One Day Workshop at California Western School of Law, where Casey is a Professor in Residence and the Director of STEPPS Program.

In his article, Casey notes that while the ABA accreditation standards require externship programs to include reflective practice, few legal educators have studied the process of reflection, developed models for reflective practice, or know how to teach reflective practice. Casey’s article excellently defines reflective practice, then thoroughly outlines the stages of reflective practice using concepts from cognitive psychology and education theory.

In his presentation at Cal Western, Casey discussed moving law students from thinking about the “self,” concretely, and dualistically to thinking more universally/globally, abstractly, and contextually.

Reflection is extremely valuable for learning. Many legal educators are including reflecting practice in their classrooms. Yet, law students often balk at the concept of “reflecting,” unsure of the value of engaging in an ambiguous, “touchy-feely” exercise.

Let’s reframe the activity: Doctors have post-mortem reviews where they examine what worked and what didn’t and what can be learned from the experience. Lawyers  should “debrief” their work. Debriefing is less emotionally charged than “reflecting,” more analytical, more lawyerly.

Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes Using Pre and Post Testing

I recently wrote about the counter-intuitive value of pre-testing, giving a test of material not yet learned, in order to prime the brain for learning to come and establish expectations for learning objectives.

I have since stumbled across an article published early this year by David J. Herring and Collin Lynch entitled Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class. Herring and Lynch discuss the ABA’s potential shift from input measures to output measures for legal education, increasing the focus on establishing learning outcomes as well as ongoing evaluation of the attainment of established outcomes.

Herring and Lynch used a pre- and post-test design for comparison within one particular subject, focusing on measuring the core skill of legal reading and cross-case reasoning. The researchers found that in contrast to traditional law teaching alone, pre-test followed by supplemental instructional interventions, produced significant learning gains. For more about the study and results, see Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class.