Academic journal article Law and Psychology Review

The Jury Is In: Law Schools Foster Students' Fixed Mindsets

Academic journal article Law and Psychology Review

The Jury Is In: Law Schools Foster Students' Fixed Mindsets

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION  I. THE PROBLEMS WITH LAWYERS: DEPRESSION AND LACK OF RESILIENCE        Depression        A. Depression        B. Resilience II. MINDSET AS THE FULCRUM: HOW THEORIES OF INTELLIGENCE EXPLAIN        MALADAPTIVE BEHAVIORS AND POOR MENTAL HEALTH        A. Theories of Intelligence: Mindset        B. Organizational Mindset        C. Mindset and Mental Health        D. Mindest and Resiliency III. OUR STUDY AND FINDINGS        A. Method        B. Participants        C. Procedure        D. Measures           1. Theories of Intelligence: Mindset           2. Interpreting Mindsets.        E. Results           1. Theories of Intelligence: Mindset           2. Law School Ranking and Mindsets           3. Gender and Mindsets           4. Interpreting Mindsets IV. SO WHAT?: INTERPRETING LAW STUDENTS' MINDSETS AND NEXT        STEPS.        A. Discussion           1. Overall Findings           2. Gender and Mindsets           3. Limitations           4. Implications        B. Next Steps: Teaching and Organizational Interventions 

"The frustrating irony is that most law school faculty members seek to inculcate in their students a growth mindset about their ability to create positive change in the world through law, but too often teach law in a way that creates a fixed mindset. If law schools don't approach their own work with a growth mindset, how can law move forward to fulfill its role in society?"--Paul Lippe, The New Normal, ABA Journal (1)


The legal education community remains concerned with the resiliency of law students and lawyers. In other fields, a growing body of research suggests that students' mindsets are linked to their resilience, and it is assumed that the findings will hold in legal education. However, to date, there has been no empirical research to support these assumptions. This article describes an empirical study of law students' mindsets based on responses from 425 students at six law schools across the United States. Our results unveil a troubling trend in law students' mindsets at different stages of the law school experience.

This article reports our findings that law schools may foster maladaptive mindsets in their students. It also offers some pedagogical interventions that might counter this trend and points law schools in a direction that could not only improve performance, but also students' resiliency as they move from law school into legal practice. It is written from the normative position that fixed mindsets are maladaptive and growth mindsets should be fostered. (2) Based upon research to be outlined, this article subscribes to a belief that when law students are struggling--an inevitable part of law school and practicing law--their mindset will differentiate their ability to learn from mistakes, persist, and remain resilient.

Findings are shared within the context of existing research and offered as a bridge to applying that research to the law school experience. Section I outlines how law students and lawyers respond to the stress of lawyering. Section II reviews existing generalized data on mindsets and maladaptive behavior and the links to mental health and resilience. Section III shares our contributions to the field: the results of our study on law student mindsets. Lastly, Section IV offers a discussion of the application of our evidence, including limitations, outlines questions it raises, and posits crucial next steps for evaluation and changes in law school teaching.

This paper subscribes to definitions of mindset and resilience coined by Carol Dweck. Her seminal work (3) defines mindset as beliefs about whether intelligence is fixed or malleable. (4) Dweck defines resilience as "[g]ood outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development." (5) She further explains that:

[A]ny behavioral, attributional, or emotional response to an academic or social challenge that is positive and beneficial for development (such as seeking new strategies, putting forth greater effort, or solving conflicts peacefully) [is considered resilient]. …

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