Legal education reform has reached the first year of law school. Reform of the first year of law school is vital because it lays the foundation for the second and third years, as well as legal practice. Of course, changes to the first year must be done properly, following the latest research in how students learn. You can’t just add a few skills experiences to the first year and hope that will work. The first year must start with the basics so that students are ready to solve more advanced problems. In other words, the first year needs to emphasis the legal reasoning process, how it is applied, and simple problem solving.
An important part of reforming the first year is to adopt text books that have been written with the new purpose of the first year in mind and that are based on general learning theory. This article discusses the lessons I learned about writing texts for first-year students from writing an experiential torts text, A Companion to Torts: Think Like a Torts Lawyer (2015). I believe that the keys to writing a first-year text are to 1) start the students out slowly and explicitly, 2) break legal reasoning (thinking like a lawyer) into its essential parts (deductive reasoning, reasoning by analogy, distinguishing, synthesis, and policy-based reasoning) and have students do exercises in each of these types of legal reasoning, 3) teach students how to apply law to facts, and 4) have the students solve increasingly harder problems using these skills.
The first half of this paper will present the theoretical basis for the exercises I used in my torts text. Part II will discuss the neurobiology of learning, which must be the foundation for any effective approach to education. Part III will examine the effectiveness of particular learning techniques in relation to the neurobiology of learning. Part IV will lay out ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’, a description of the six stages of cognitive learning. The second half of this paper will then present how I wrote my torts text, based on the theory of the first half. Part V will discuss how to organize the text. Part VI will give the types of exercises that should be included in such a book. These exercises comprise retrieval exercises, issue-spotting exercises, legal reasoning exercises on rule-based reasoning, analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases, rule synthesis, and policy-based reasoning, reflection exercises, metacognitive exercises, professionalism and professional identity exercises, and extended problem-solving exercises.
Fruehwald, Edwin S, Bringing Legal Education Reform into the First Year: A New Type of Torts Text (April 25, 2016).