Growth, Stress, and Belonging

How can social psychology help explain and solve law-student distress and the achievement gaps that it exacerbates?

As a generation of research demonstrates, legal education faces twin crises of deficits in student well-being and of persistent achievement gaps. Researchers at MILE are showing that the problems – and their solutions – have substantial social-psychological facets.

Roots of the Problem: MILE’s research shows that deficits in well-being and associated deficits in law-school performance fall most heavily on law students from disadvantaged groups. Specifically, law students from disadvantaged (vs. advantaged) groups report weaker relationships in law school. These weaker relationships, in turn, are associated with reduced belonging in law school, lower law school satisfaction, and lower grades.

A Path Forward: As MILE has outlined and put into practice, the realization that psychological friction plays a role in all aspects of the law school experience points the way to solutions. To the extent that problems in legal education are psychological problems, they are amenable to psychological solutions.

Happily, legal education offers fertile soil for such an attempt. Advances in psychology, growing institutional will to improve law student well-being and lower legal education achievement gaps, and the emergence of a robust academic subfield on the topic all make the current moment a promising one for progress.

Read On

Victor D. Quintanilla and Sam Erman, “Mindsets in Legal Education,” Journal of Legal Education