Review: Educating Students About the Emotional Factors that Can Undermine Their Analytical Thinking

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By Sandra Simpson from Gonzaga University School of Law

Robin Wellford Slocum, Educating Students About the Emotional Factors that Can Undermine Their Analytical Thinking, Legal Reasoning, Writing, & Other Lawyering Skills (3rd ed., 2011) [Read fulltext at SSRN]

This review stems from two articles written by Robin Wellford Slocum of Chapman University School of Law. The first, “Educating Students About the Emotional Factors that Can Undermine Their Analytical Thinking,” is published in Legal Reasoning, Writing, & Other Lawyering Skills, Chapter 4, 3rd ed. (LexisNexis, 2011). The second is “An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers,” available on SSRN.

Both the chapter and the article deal with the same issue, that of teaching emotional competency. These two scholarly works describe the process of teaching our students to “think like an emotionally competent lawyer[s],” which includes understanding the emotional brain and the thinking brain and their interconnectedness. Slocum emphasizes how the emotional brain oversimplifies the world (black/white; right/wrong; etc.). The emotional brain also discounts evidence that one’s initial instincts may be wrong while over-emphasizing evidence that proves one’s initial instinct was correct. In this way, the emotional brain tends to highjack the thinking brain. This myopic lens, if left unexamined and unchecked, can lead to inaccurate legal conclusions based on a limited world view. This lack of perspective and judgment can make accurate evaluation of the law and client needs difficult.

To solve this problem, the author suggests helping students to understand and then address the emotional biases and selective perceptions that may be causing their limited world view. Law professors can accomplish this with brief exercises or more in-depth curriculum changes, both described in these two pieces. The ideas can be minor, short-in-duration exercises added to existing classes, such as exercises aimed at getting at students’ automatic responses to different situations. Ideas can also be broader based such as the addition of courses focused exclusively on developing emotional competence.

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