How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School
Law Review Article
academic success programs, educational psychology and metacognition, growth mindset
Over the past 50 years, law schools have seen an amazing increase in the diversity of its students. Minorities, women, and the foreign born now make up a significant percentage of those attending law school. However, law school education has changed little in reaction to the new kind of students it must educate. Law schools continue to use the casebook/Socratic method with some modifications at the edges for legal writing and clinics. While law schools have added minority offices, remedial classes, bar review courses, and academic support personnel, these efforts have not helped to the extent hoped.
Many in legal education view the failure of a significant number of students as inevitable. However, this author believes that students from disadvantaged backgrounds can succeed in law school and become successful lawyers if law schools adopt new methods of instructing such students. In other words, the problem lies not in the lack of innate ability of our students, but how law schools deliver instruction to their students.
First, law schools must change the mindsets of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many students at all levels believe that intelligence is fixed. Such a mindset prevents learning because it creates a defeatist attitude. Law schools need to instill a growth mindset in their students – that with effort and the proper approach any student that is qualified to enter law school can succeed in law school.
Second, law schools should help motivate their students. Many students come to law school lacking the motivation to learn. Third, law schools must teach their students how to be metacognitive thinkers. Metacognition concerns thinking about thinking – controlling one’s cognitive processes. Fourth, law schools must help students from disadvantaged groups become self-regulated learners. Self-regulated learners are engaged learners, and they are fascinated by learning new things. Finally, law schools need to help students develop better study habits.