Law Students

Dear Law School Professors: Your Scare Tactics Don’t Work
Download PDF


Dear Law School Professors: Your Scare Tactics Don't Work

Summary: Telling tales of attorneys’ mistakes and informing students of all the things that can go wrong in a law practice are largely ineffective and only add stress to students, a new paper finds.


The Wall Street Journal reports what many law students already know: that fear based instruction isn’t a great idea for teaching law classes. Before their first year of law school, many students have heard horror stories of attorneys’ mishaps and mistakes in practice. One such story includes an attorney who overlooked a spelling check error in his appellate brief—“sua sponte” was “corrected” to “sea sponge.”

Abigail Patthoff, a legal research and writing specialist at Chapman University in California, demonstrates in her latest paper, which will be published in the Utah Law Review, that such “scare tactics” in the classroom only add stress to an already draining educational program. If professors are too careless with these methods, she warns that these students, who are already “among the most dissatisfied, demoralized, and depressed of graduate school populations,” will only suffer more.

Ms. Patthoff states that professors should be more careful when implementing cautionary tales in lecture. “By more thoughtfully using cautionary tales, we can actively manage one source of law student anxiety.”

Get JD Journal in Your Mail

Subscribe to our FREE daily news alerts and get the latest updates on the most happening events in the legal, business, and celebrity world. You also get your daily dose of humor and entertainment!!

Ms. Patthoff includes some tips for the most effective use of these stories. She encourages professors to use them sparingly so as to “preserve the effectiveness of the fear appeal technique.” These anecdotes would also be well received by students during “lower-stress times,” such as the beginning of the semester or after a big assignment is due.

Avoiding vivid language, as well as narrowing the message (instead of telling a complicated, involved story) are also effective precautions for professors to take. Most importantly, she advises these professors not to assume that the students will immediately understand what they should not do in their practices—make the takeaway advice specific, such as “consult a style manual when you are unsure where to place an apostrophe.”

Photo credit:





Search Now

Junior Commercial Litigation Attorney with products liability experience


Phoenix office of our client seeks junior commercial litigation attorney with 1-3 years of experienc...

Apply Now

Employment Defense Attorney with 5+ years of litigation experience

USA-CA-Los Angeles

Los Angeles office of our client seeks employment defense attorney with 5+ years of litigation exper...

Apply Now

IP Patent Attorney with 2-5 years of computer engineering experience


Milwaukee office of our client seeks intellectual property patent attorney with 2-5 years of experie...

Apply Now

Labor and Employment Attorney with 3-4 years of litigation experience

USA-CA-Los Angeles

Los Angeles office of our client seeks labor and employment attorney with 3-4 years of litigation ex...

Apply Now


Commercial Real Estate Associate


Searching for an experienced commercial real estate associate. Ideally, this candidate has gained th...

Apply now

Paralegal / Legal Assistant

USA-LA-New Orleans

New Orleans law firm, Herman, Herman & Katz, seeking to hire a paralegal with at least five years ex...

Apply now

Paralegal / Legal Assistant

USA-RI-East Providence

Our firm is seeking is seeking a candidate that can handle a fast-paced working environment and can ...

Apply now

Junior Litigation Attorney

USA-NY-New York City

Junior Litigation Attorney. We are seeking applications for a junior associate position in our New Y...

Apply now

Most Popular


To Top