Learning outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently

By Barnes, JoAnna J. | Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Learning outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently


Barnes, JoAnna J., Journal of Psychiatry & Law


Learning Outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently, by Leah M. Christensen (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2011), 216 pp., $28.00.

With the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA, RL. 110-325) and its accompanying regulations, more undergraduate students with learning disabilities will be able to obtain accommodations in college and on standardized testing. With these accommodations, it is likely that more and more students with learning disabilities will graduate with a strong academic record and be admitted to law school. So, it is timely that Leah Christensen has written a book to help law students who learn differently.

Professor Christensen teaches Evidence and Legal Writing at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. She has published articles on legal reading and success in law, and several articles on the learning strategies of law students with ADD or ADHD. Professor Christensen has written Learning Outside the Box for the student with a learning disability (or who learns "differently") who has been admitted to law school. The author's purpose is to provide these students with pragmatic academic strategies that will help them succeed in law school.

Learning Outside the Box is a book divided into two parts. Part I introduces the reader to law school and how it is different from other academic environments. Part II provides specific strategies for succeeding in law school. Throughout the book, the author imparts useful information on law school and its curriculum, provides a background on some learning disabilities and learning strategies, and interjects examples from her research on law students with ADD/ADHD. The book is at its best when she speaks to the first task.

Professor Christensen recognizes that many students with learning disabilities have succeeded thus far, even with accommodations, by just working harder and longer than nondisabled students. But, she posits, the work load of law school is so great that these strategies are no longer enough. The author provides an informative description of law school, its teaching methods, curriculum, and culture. Then, she presents detailed methods for students to use to succeed in law school, and then to utilize farther down the road when practicing law. She provides, among other things, excellent advice on how to read more effectively in law school with a detailed description on how to brief a case. All of Part ? is devoted to presenting specific study, writing, and test-taking strategies for law school. She also provides detailed rubrics and formats students can use to implement these strategies and supplements them with helpful examples. The author has intended this book for students with learning disabilities, but any prospective law student will benefit from her advice.

In addition to advising the reader on effective tools for succeeding in law school, Professor Christensen also tries to provide background information on learning strategies and learning disabilities. It is understandable that she is trying to provide some context to her recommendations but it causes confusion in some parts of the book, and detracts from her excellent advice. For instance, in Chapter 4 she discusses three types of reading strategies. This discussion is hard to follow, and it is likely that some students with a learning disability will not make it all the way through; however, this discussion is followed with excellent advice on how to read a judicial opinion.

Professor Christensen also tries to broaden her targeted reader from students with ADD/ADHD to all students with learning disabilities. …

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