Smarter Law Learning: Using Cognitive Science to Maximize Law Learning

30 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2014 Last revised: 29 Aug 2015

See all articles by Jennifer M. Cooper

Jennifer M. Cooper

University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Tulane University - Law School

Date Written: February 22, 2015


Recent advances in cognitive science create smarter law learning opportunities for legal education. Legal educators can use empirical research from cognitive and learning science to improve student learning, in turn easing the bumpy transition from college to law school and maintaining confidence. More importantly, legal educators can instill effective learning strategies vital for students’ success in school, the bar exam, and in practice.

Some colleges and universities are failing in providing students with robust critical thinking, writing, and learning skills. The lack of foundational skills can create difficult transitions for students when pursuing graduate and professional educations, such as law school.

Research shows that students often rely on improvised and ineffective learning strategies like rereading, cramming, and rote memorization, which are especially ill suited to the demands of legal education requiring higher order thinking and analysis. Inversely, retrieval practice, the testing effect, and periodic review create more effective long-term learning and higher order thinking and analytical skills, yet are counter-intuitive and not always used by students. Luckily, help is available: legal educators can leverage cognitive and learning science to maximize law learning.

This Article explains how legal educators and students can leverage cognitive science for smarter law learning. It first summarizes key research findings on effective study and learning strategies, and then suggests simple, practical, and easily implemented ways to integrate them into the law school classroom.

Keywords: legal education, study skills, study habits, illusions of competence, educational psychology, cognition, retrieval, testing effect, learning science, learning psychology, teaching, pedagogy

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Jennifer M, Smarter Law Learning: Using Cognitive Science to Maximize Law Learning (February 22, 2015). Capital University Law Review, Vol. 44 (2016, Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer M Cooper (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Ave.
Ste 335
Denver, CO 80208
United States

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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