Legal Education Reform Central by Scott Fruehwald

This website is a central storehouse for materials on legal education reform.  It contains a bibliography of scholarship on legal education reform and general education scholarship, as well as original material.


The Biggest Problem in Legal Education: The Mismatch Between How Law Schools Teach Their Students and What Lawyers Do In Practice

Legal education reformers often criticize traditional legal education because it prepares attorneys to be appellate lawyers and legal philosophers rather than practitioners. It is indisputable that most law school classes focus on appellate practice and that advanced classes (seminars) mainly concern philosophy and theory. Even first-year legal writing classes focus on appellate practice in the second semester. The question then is whether this type of preparation is adequate for the future lawyers of American, or do law schools need to take a different approach to legal education? Is there any educational research that helps us answer this question?

Education research can help us answer these questions. According to one education scholar, "We have learned more about how the mind works in the last twenty-five years than we did in the previous twenty-five hundred." (Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School 1 (2009)).

Long-term memory is one of the key parts of learning and thinking. Students need to develop ways to retain knowledge in their long-term memories, and they need to develop ways to easily retrieve knowledge from their long-term memories for use in their short-term memories where thinking is done. A single bit of knowledge is stored in a neuron in long-term memory. Complex knowledge is stored in chunks–a single entity, which is an interconnected cluster of neurons. From a neurobiological viewpoint, the neurons are connected by synapses, the process by which the firing neuron sends a chemical signal called a neurotransmitter across the synaptic gap to other neurons. When enough chunks are interconnected, they can provide knowledge organization (or schemas) for an entire domain (such as physics or contracts).

Organization in long-term memory is in relation to how the material is learned, including the context and function of the way the material is being learned. For example, a student could organize a series of cases on due process and personal jurisdiction by the state involved, by whether the court found jurisdiction or not, or by the reasons for finding or not finding jurisdiction. Which of these organizational techniques would usually aid learning best with a civil procedure question? Superficial knowledge organizations, like organizing personal jurisdiction cases by the state involved, do not lead to effective learning because retrieval of that information is difficult in the context in which it is needed. (Organizing cases by state does not help retrieve the information needed when the context is how courts found or did not find personal jurisdiction, as would be necessary in writing a brief.)

Experts organize by recognizing the deep patterns in the knowledge. For example, a law expert would organize a series of cases by the types of reasoning a court used, then organize on a sublevel by the similarities and the differences among the cases. Therefore, professors should teach their students how to recognize deep organizing patterns in material.

Another difference between expert and novice knowledge organization is the number and quality of connections between bits of knowledge. Novices usually have few connections among neurons. Consequently, they often do not make connections among related pieces of knowledge. Experts have many more connections. A professor should show their students to view knowledge from multiple angles in order to create more connections. Showing how to organize knowledge into different organizations also helps students create connections. For example, a professor could have his students organize a set of cases by the doctrinal principle behind the cases, then by the theoretical principle behind the cases.

In sum, "students performed better when their knowledge organization matched the requirements of the task, and they performed worse when it mismatched." (Ambrose at 48) (The information in the four paragraphs above is from Susan Ambrose, How Learning Works 40-65 (2010) and Duane F. Shell et. al., The Unified Learning Model 1-17 (2010).)

Based on the above, one should be able to see the problem in legal education. Legal education mainly teaches students to be appellate lawyers and legal philosophers. The typical lawyer is not an appellate lawyer or a philosopher. Thus, law schools do not teach their students in a way that is best for the knowledge retrieval they will need as practicing attorneys. For example, students learn contract principles in law school, but the typical first-year contracts class does not teach students how to use this knowledge to draft a contract. When a lawyer starts to draft contracts in practice, she will be lost because of the way she has contract law stored in her long-term memory. In other words, the way that contract law is stored in a law student’s long-term memory does not transfer well to drafting contracts. Similarly, Torts may help a student write an appellate brief on a torts question, but the typical Torts class does not provide the knowledge organization to make it easy to draft interrogatories in a torts case. The torts doctrine is not organized in a manner in long-term memory that will transfer easily to drafting interrogatories.

In conclusion, a major problem with legal education is that it is not taught in a manner that allows lawyers to easily retrieve needed knowledge from long-term memory. In other words, law schools generally do not teach their students to be fluent in contact drafting, drafting interrogatories, or many of the other essential skills of lawyers. This must change if legal educators want to produce practice-ready attorneys.



Other Pages

The Main Elements of Legal Education Reform

Legal Education Reform Scholarship

General Education Reform Books and Articles



Major Websites and Blogs on Legal Education Reform

Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers

Legal Skills Prof Blog

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning

Center for Excellence in Law Teaching

Law School 2.0

Original Material by Scott Fruehwald


E. Scott Fruehwald, A Companion to Torts: How to Think Like a Torts Lawyer (2015)

E. Scott Fruehwald, Developing Your Professional Identity: Creating Your Inner Lawyer (2015)

E. Scott Fruehwald, Legal Writing Exercises: A Practical Guide to Clear and Persuasive Writing for Lawyers (ABA Pub. 2014)

E. Scott Fruehwald, Overcoming Cognitive Biases: Thinking More Clearly and Avoiding Manipulation by Others (2017

E. Scott Fruehwald, Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (ABA Pub. 2013)


Developing Law Students' Professional Identities

How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School

How to Become an Expert Teacher by Understanding the Neurobiology of Learning

The Theory Behind My Book, Think Like A Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals

Selected Blog Posts (Legal Skills Prof Blog)

The Scott Fruehwald Method of Slow Reading

Professor Robert Condlin on Legal Education Reform: A Reply Part I

Professor Robert Condlin on Legal Education Reform: A Reply Part II

Don't Write Off Struggling Law Students

Do States Need to Change the Bar Exam?

Reform Will Bring More Rigor to Legal Education

The Illinois State Bar Association: Special Committee Report--Wrap Up And A Challenge

Professor Richard Epstein on Legal Education: A Reply

What Law Students Can Do To Further Legal Education Reform

Thinking-Aloud Techniques to Develop Problem-Solving Skills

A Novel Approach To Legal Education's Problems: The "Langdellian Bargain"

More On The Influence Of The Langdellian Tradition And Langdellian Bargain On Contemporary Legal Education

They Said It Couldn't Be Done: Law Schools That Have Adopted Significant Educational Reforms

What Law Firms and Attorneys Can Do to Help Further Legal Education Reform

Explanatory Synthesis

The Two Faces of Teaching Professionalism

Review: Discovery Practice by David I.C. Thomson

Review: Contracts: A Context and Practice Casebook by Michael Hunter Schwartz and Denise Riebe

Teaching Law: A Reply to Stanley Fish

Improving Legal Education by Improving Casebooks

Do We Need To Change Our Teaching Methods?

Responses to New York Times Editorial on Legal Education

Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Website



A Companion to Torts: How to Think Like a Torts Lawyer

by E. Scott Fruehwald

This book takes a new approach to learning torts law: its goal is to teach law students to think like torts lawyers. Thinking like a lawyer means solving a problem to produce a legal solution. This process involves using several types of reasoning in combination, including synthesis, rule-based reasoning, analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases, policy-based reasoning, and creativity. A torts lawyer uses these reasoning methods to solve torts problems. This book will include a variety of torts exercises on the different types of legal reasoning to achieve the goal of teaching students to think like torts lawyers. This book is a supplement to torts casebooks and textbooks. Its main audience is first-year law students who are taking torts. It may be required by a professor, or students may use it as a supplement to the class to improve their torts skills and general legal reasoning skills. This book will also be useful for incoming law students who want to develop their torts and legal reasoning skills before they attend law school. Law school begins quickly on the first day, and it is better to be ahead than behind. Finally, this book will also help law graduates who are preparing for the bar, academic support staff who want to help students improve their legal reasoning skills, and practitioners who want to refine their legal reasoning skills.

Available at Amazon.

Legal Writing Exercises: A Practical Guide to Clear and Persuasive Writing for Lawyers

by E. Scott Fruehwald

(ABA Publishing 2014)

The book is intended for anyone who wants to improve their writing.  The book begins with an Introduction that presents the general principles of clear and effective writing. Then, the remaining chapters deal with the details of editing, progressing from editing sentences to large-scale organization. Chapter Two concerns active and passive sentences and writing with verbs. Chapter Three involves editing for wordiness. Chapter Four teaches emphasis, clarity, and specificity, while Chapter Five shows how to combine sentences and edit paragraphs. Chapter Six covers organizing paragraphs and creating coherence. Chapter Seven shows how to write a small-scale paradigm, and Chapter Eight discusses large- and medium-scale organization. The book concludes with review exercises and a glossary.

Available at the ABA Webstore

Think Like A Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals

By E. Scott Fruehwald

(ABA Publishing 2013)



Available at ABA Webstore

Download the Preface

The Theory Behind My Book, Think Like A Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals


Professor Robert Condlin on Legal Education Reform: A Reply Part II