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Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive outcomes, legal thinking, and competency maps

When someone in a law department tries to describe a lawyer’s powers of cerebration, the vocabulary likely foils everyone. We know it when we experience it, but we can’t define with discrimination the level of a person’s mental faculties. A recent article (Historically Speaking, Sept./Oct. 2005 at 14) presented a solution.

Fifty some years ago Benjamin Bloom proposed what has become widely accepted as a model of cognitive outcomes . If you want to more clearly explain a lawyer’s thinking level and develop competency maps, try these six levels of increasing mental sophistication.

Knowledge: the lawyer can list, label, name, state and define legal principles, requirements, or steps in the approximate form in which they were learned: “what is a security interest and how to perfect it”

Comprehension: the lawyer can explain, summarize, describe and paraphrase the principle, statute, or steps, which involves a higher level of interpretation and understanding: “the importance and function of security interests”

Application: the lawyer uses and applies the known and comprehended legal information to solve a problem or complete a task: “perfecting a UCC Article 9 security interest in chattel”

Analysis: the lawyer can analyze, categorize, compare and contrast the facts and legal issues of a situation in light of its structure, assumptions and evidence: “does the lender need a mortgage, an Article 9 security interest, a pledge, or another form of collateral”

Synthesis: the lawyer can create, design, develop and invent a service, product, or plan that is new to the lawyer and suitable for the legal challenge: “the lender needs collateral protection in two countries with different legal codes and judicial systems for foreclosure”

Evaluation: the lawyer can judge, recommend, and critique the degree of protection obtained by the lender on the basis of specific standards and criteria: “the lender, having taken the actions prescribed by the lawyer, has an 80-90 percent level of protection upon the borrower’s default, for articulated reasons.”

(See my post of July 31, 2005 on emotional intelligence and Nov. 13, 2005 on broader intelligences.)

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