Teaching Non-zero Problem-Solving

I’m often asked what law schools can do to change the current dynamic of “too many lawyers for the old legal world, not enough lawyers for the new.” It comes down to math, and the application of computational logic to real world principles.

One way to open law students’ minds is by addressing math in pedagogy. I’ve taught enough SAT/GRE/LSAT prep classes to know that there’s a structural educational roadblock to learning math past simple arithmetic. I have middle-schoolers going through the process of learning algebra, a class that teaches many a kid to hate math. They have a hard time learning from a whiteboard lesson in a class of 25, and teachers have no bandwidth to check if anything was absorbed into their brains. If not pushed, students cannot see the relevance of algebra to real life. “When will I ever need this?” they cry.

Principia Mathematica

Current pedagogy creates math aversion that reverberates in the legal community. Math aversion prevents students who have not studied more advanced math from easily visualizing nonzero solutions to complex problems. The laws of mathematics teach us that exponential results are not only achievable, they are natural law. Lawyers need to be able to use this dynamic to be productive, synergistic problem-solvers.


What potential solutions exist, for both children and law students? One that holds promise was adopted in 2016 by Finland, which already has great schools. It takes a multidisciplinary approach to creating “transversive competencies.” Finland’s curriculum aims to teach: (a) understanding the world, (b) managing decisionmaking in order to take care of one’s self; and (c) feeling (and being) valued in community. Finland’s new curriculum emphasizes multidisciplinary systems and analysis of situations relevant to daily life, teaching math as an integral part of life.

In a legal context, I’ve experimented with integrating math systems in legal pedagogy, focusing on applying the IRAC writing rubric as a recursive decisionmaking algorithm. (Aside: This short video from last year, Law as Angry Birds in 4D, explains the 2016 elections.) 

The payoff for multidisciplinary legal education is not only students who can more effectively analyze situations and make decisions, but in producing legal and social engineers who can conceive of and execute nonzero-sum solutions. With sufficiently sophisticated computational resources, the universe becomes a story problem that people are driven to “solve.” The answer may or may not be “42,” depending on the inputs.