Southern Illinois University Law Journal
New law students traditionally learn better when they can connect what they are learning to a familiar non-legal experience. Therefore, the use of an analogy, which can be defined as a comparison showing the similarities of two otherwise unlike things to help explain an idea or concept, is an obvious way to facilitate a student’s connection between the new and what is already known. An analogy is a logical step in introducing the complex processes of legal research and analysis by attempting to simplify the alien structure of summarizing that legal research and analysis into a coherent piece of predictive or persuasive legal writing. Analogies allow students to build on a familiar network of knowledge, making the learning more comfortable and the material more accessible. Analogies also stimulate a genuine interest in the task and promote a culture of supportive learning due to the many connections the students forge to diverse and wide-ranging, non-legal experiences.
Integrating the use of analogies into the teaching of legal analysis and writing in a systematic way is a powerful teaching device. It is one that easily can break down the processes of legal research, analysis, and writing into simpler terms, thereby helping new law students understand, develop, and ultimately master these essential lawyering skills.
This Article therefore proposes that faculty incorporate analogies into their classroom teaching by experimenting with interesting and engaging ways to connect all parts of the curriculum to the students’ existing knowledge base. This proposal has its roots in cognitive learning theory, which expounds that experts use prior knowledge or contexts, referred to as schemata by cognitive psychologists, to facilitate problem solving. When analogies are applied to student learners, students will assign a new experience meaning according to how the analogy fits into their existing schema. As students refine their understanding of the new information, they begin to identify connections between the concepts. This, in turn, enables them to expand or modify existing schemata or create new ones. Then, as they recognize the relationships among these concepts, they begin to develop domain-specific patterns of thought and eventual mastery over the relevant domain with practice. Thus, the basic principles of cognitive learning theory confirm not only the relevance but the great value of utilizing analogies as a teaching tool.