Review: Enhancing Law School Success

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By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law

Leah Christensen, Enhancing Law School Success: A Study of Goal Orientations, Academic Achievement and the Declining Self-Efficacy of Our Law Students, 33 Law & Psychology Review 57 (2009) [Read fulltext (2.1 MB PDF)] (Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Law & Psychology Review, © 2009; reprint courtesy HeinOnline.org)

Do students who focus on mastering their law school material rather than on grades do better in law school? Does believe in oneself predict success in law school? This article asks and offers the results of a carefully-constructed study as a start to answering these important questions.

Interestingly, even though law schools place a huge emphasis on grades, generally assigning lower grades than all other graduate schools and often ranking students from first to last on a semester-by-semester basis, the most successful law students have a mastery rather than a grade focus. This result has very interesting implications not only for future studies but also for reforming how law schools train their students. Studies in other settings show that students can be trained to develop mastery goals; future studies can and should explore whether training students to choose to adopt mastery goals can have similar effects. Regardless of the results of such studies, this paper makes it clear that law schools may be able to improve student performance by altering their emphasis on grades and focusing more on mastery.

The study also reveals that mastery orientation trumps LSAT scores as a predictor of law school success. That piece of data should haunt law schools.

Equally interesting is Christensen’s data showing that the high performing, mastery-oriented students are more likely than their peers to doubt their academic abilities. In other words, it appears that law schools manage to make even their best performing students feel bad about themselves.

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