The Science of Legal Synthesis
Forthcoming, St. John's Law Review Volume 95, Issue 2, Fall 2021
27 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2020 Last revised: 6 May 2021
Date Written: March 20, 2020
Synthesis is a key component of “thinking like a lawyer,” a skill essential to legal analysis, legal education, law practice, and legal decision-making. Yet synthesis is as much art as logic, subject to the eye of the beholder to judge whether synthesis is “good” or feels right. Despite its necessity to legal analysis, synthesis is performed subconsciously, poorly understood, and difficult to teach, frustrating novices and experts alike. This Article fills a gap in the existing literature by applying cognitive science to understand synthesis in legal analysis and how it can be learned, taught, and evaluated.
This Article explains how recent advances in cognitive science sharpen our ability to understand and perform legal synthesis, express it in our writing, explain the process to others, and gauge its reliability. The systematic application of the principles of categorization, abstraction, and induction create legal synthesis that is logically sound and inductively reliable. An understanding of the cognitive science of legal synthesis has a broad reach: all legal educators - from doctrinal to skills faculty, academic success, legal research and writing - can elevate their legal synthesis from subconscious to intentional abstraction.
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