Bridging the Reading Gap in the Law School Classroom
17 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2016
Date Written: October 26, 2016
Many students struggle in law school, particularly in the first year, because they are weak readers. They do not know how to read text closely and have limited practice in reading complex or lengthy pieces of writing. Nor are they accustomed to reading works that demand deep thinking and reflection.
Yet legal analysis and writing depends on a careful reading and thoughtful understanding of the authority on which a lawyer relies. Without strong reading and critical thinking skills, it is no surprise that incoming law students have difficulty following a structured analysis and mastering legal writing. As the gap between what entering law students know and what legal educators expect them to know widens, it’s time to further study the sources of the problem and adjust not only teaching expectations but also the manner in which professors teach.
To that end, this article explores ways to close the gap in the reading skills of entering law students so that they can develop the competencies in legal reading, analysis, and writing required to excel in law school. The “underprepared law student”, a term commonly used to describe today’s law student, has many attributes that need attention. But this article focuses solely on the student’s reading ability because it is the foundation to building competency in all other areas. Law students need to be able to read legal text in order to understand rules, explain legal principles, identify issues, solve legal problems, and advocate persuasively. Without a strong basis in reading, a law student’s success in all of these tasks is compromised.
Though there are a unique group of forces that might contribute to the underprepared law student, this article concentrates on two sources specifically: (1) the student’s prior educational experience and (2) the student’s relationship with technology. Thus, the article first discusses how students are learning in their undergraduate studies and how technology has transformed the reading experience for many. It also describes the characteristics of a typically underprepared law student. Next, it explores the implications a student’s unpreparedness has on his or her ability to succeed in law school. Finally, it suggests ways to better prepare students so that they develop into strong readers and critical thinkers. Specifically, it proposes that professors use more guided reading exercises to ensure that students master these skills, which are so critical to not only performing in law school, but also to becoming practice-ready attorneys. Thus, by demonstrating for students how expert legal readers read, professors can help tremendously in closing the reading gap for beginning law students.
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