The Kids Aren't Alright: Rethinking the Law Student Skills Deficit

36 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2014 Last revised: 23 Nov 2014

Date Written: June 1, 2014


This article explores the decline of fundamental thinking skills in pre-law students and the challenges facing law schools admitting underprepared students during a time of constrained budgets and declining enrollment. A growing body of empirical research demonstrates a marked decline in the critical thinking and reasoning skills among college graduates. The causes for the decline are interconnected with other problematic changes on undergraduate campuses: 1) a dramatic decrease in student study time since 1960, examining research which suggests that undergraduate students spent 1/3 less time studying in 2003 than they did in 1961; 2) a consumerist orientation among college students, resulting in a diminished focus on learning; 3) grade inflation at undergraduate campuses, resulting in grade compression and an inability to distinguish between exceptional and ordinary students 4) a decline in undergraduate students choosing to major in liberal arts that provide the foundation for early success in law school. Declines in study time, grade inflation, and changing patterns in student class choice have created an undergraduate learning environment that is less rigorous than undergraduate education fifty years ago.

This article challenges law schools to examine the adequacy of traditional support programs when incoming classes require systemic and sustained academic assistance. Law schools have traditionally helped academically underprepared through academic support programs, however, traditional ASPs are not equipped to provide broad-based and comprehensive assistance to large numbers of law students. Law student underpreparedness is a “wicked problem,” so complex that singular solutions are impossible. Law schools admitting substantial numbers of students with lower-levels of academic preparedness need to ask themselves questions to determine how to best address these challenges. The broader legal community should reflect on these questions because the answers will require all stakeholders to invest in changes to undergraduate education as well as legal training.

Keywords: legal education, law students, underpreparedness, Academically Adrift, study time, SETs, student evaluations of teaching, class choice, undergraduate education, pre-occupational majors, wicked problems, liberal arts

Suggested Citation

Flanagan, Rebecca C., The Kids Aren't Alright: Rethinking the Law Student Skills Deficit (June 1, 2014). Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2015 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca C. Flanagan (Contact Author)

UMass Law ( email )

333 Faunce Corner Road
North Dartmouth, MA 02747-1252
United States

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