Law Students Who Learn Differently: A Narrative Case Study of Three Law Students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

By Christensen, Leah M. | Journal of Law and Health, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Law Students Who Learn Differently: A Narrative Case Study of Three Law Students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)


Christensen, Leah M., Journal of Law and Health


  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. LAW STUDENTS WITH ADD: A NEW
     REALITY IN LEGAL EDUCATION
     A. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
III. STUDY METHODOLOGY
     A. The Method For Collecting Data
     B. The Participants
     C. Data Analysis
 IV. THE LAW SCHOOL EXPERIENCE OF THOSE
     WHO LEARN DIFFERENTLY
     A. Isolation in Law School
     C. The Failure of the Traditional Socratic Method
        to Reach Law Students Who Learn Differently
     D. Concerns About the Future
  V. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THESE
     STUDENTS?
 VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Although law school pedagogy has not changed significantly over the years, the demographics of the students attending law schools have changed immensely. (1) More law students than ever before begin law school having been diagnosed with a learning disability. (2) Yet there has been little if any research on how law students with learning disabilities experience law school. (3) Although many students do request reasonable accommodations for their learning disability, equally as many students do not disclose their learning disability to the law school nor do they request disability accommodations. (4) As legal educators, do we have an obligation to expand our teaching methodologies beyond the typical law student? What teaching methodologies work most effectively for law students with learning disabilities? How do these students approach learning the law?

The purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of law students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) about their law school experience. I was particularly interested in the learning and studying strategies of these students and their opinions about the effectiveness of teaching methodologies used during the first and second year of law school. The study used a qualitative research methodology (5) and employed a narrative case study analysis. (6)

Part I of this article briefly examines the literature on law students with learning disabilities and explores the traits associated with ADD. Part II describes the study methodology and the students who participated in the study. Part III presents a narrative case study of three students with ADD. The case study yielded four themes relating to the social, learning and achievement domains of the students. First, all three participants experienced feelings of isolation in law school due to their learning disabilities. Second, the two successful law students with ADD seemed to understand and use their personal learning styles to their benefit whereas the less successful student did not. Third, all three students with ADD reported that an educator's reliance upon the Socratic Method as the predominant teaching methodology inhibited their learning in the classroom. Finally, despite each of the students' important accomplishments in law school, they all expressed feelings of uncertainly about their future careers as practicing lawyers with ADD. Part IV of this article explores the conclusions we might draw from the data and the ways in which we might alter law school pedagogy to better serve students who learn differently.

II. LAW STUDENTS WITH ADD: A NEW REALITY IN LEGAL EDUCATION

There are harsh critiques of the legal academy regarding how it approaches students who learn differently: (7) "Legal educators often suffer from disabling intellectual paralysis and lack of vision when it comes to teaching students with disabilities and nontraditional learners." (8) In addition, law professors may suffer from "lack of vision, stereotypes, and prejudices that prevent legal educators" from teaching those who learn differently effectively or appropriately. (9) While this may be true of some traditionalists within the legal academy, there seems to be a growing trend among progressive legal educators to incorporate learning theory into their classrooms and to expand their teaching beyond the traditional Socratic Method. …

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