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Unpublished Paper
The Cartography of Legal Inquiry
ExpressO (2009)
  • Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University

As lifelong learners, we all know the feelings of discomfort and bewilderment that can come from being asked to apply existing skills in a completely new situation. As legal educators, we have also experienced the frustration that comes from watching our students struggle to identify and transfer skills from one learning environment to another. For example, a first-semester law student who learns to analogize case law to a fact pattern in a legal writing problem typically will not see the deeper applications for those skills in a law school essay exam several weeks later. Similarly, when law students learn how an equitable doctrine like "unclean hands" applies to a particular torts problem in one class, only the smallest percentage will then see the potential application for the doctrine in a contracts course with another professor. Fortunately, research in “transfer of learning” offers the legal academy tools to help students encode knowledge - whether doctrine or skills - in such a way that they know better when and how to retrieve it for later use.

This Article-in-Progress is the first to offer legal educators a comprehensive approach to the transfer of learning across the entire curriculum. It is also the first to propose that law schools employ schema theory to help students encode knowledge and skills for future transfer, as well as to conceptually integrate their courses. In the sample schema provided, students can use four categories of specific core lawyering skills as “constants” for navigating their coursework and employment. Finally, the author details a four-step “core skills approach” for aiding transfer, including the core skills schema; charts that show how various skill sets apply across the curriculum; a universal metacognitive reflection exercise; and additional sample exercises tailored to cue previous knowledge across conceptual bridges, such as the one that spans the distance from legal writing courses into clinic.

  • transfer of learning,
  • transfer of training,
  • schema theory,
  • metacognition,
  • legal skills,
  • skills education,
  • curriculum reform,
  • curricular reform
Publication Date
October 12, 2009
Citation Information
Tonya Kowalski. "The Cartography of Legal Inquiry" ExpressO (2009)
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