Research: Poor math skills affect legal decision-making

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

According to research from Professor Arden Rowell and Jessica Bregant, there is a “highly significant relationship” between law students’ math skills and the substance of their legal analysis, suggesting that legal analysis – and by extension, legal advice – may vary with a laywer’s native math skills.

“What the research shows is that math matters to lawyers more – and for different reasons – than people have realized,” said Rowell, a professor of law and the Richard W. and Marie L. Corman Scholar at Illinois. “People are only now starting to pay attention to the fact that lawyers and judges who are bad at math can make mistakes that ruin people’s lives. That implicates numeracy as a neglected but potentially critical aspect of legal education, because it’s not something that law schools have traditionally focused on when selecting students.”

Rowell, who co-wrote the paper with Bregant, a research associate with the College of Law at Illinois, says the research suggests that the effect of math skills doesn’t stop there.

“Even when lawyers aren’t making obvious math mistakes, their understanding of the law may be fundamentally different based on how good they are at math,” she said. “In other words, clients may not get the same outcome when they bring identical cases, simply because the attorney they hire – or the judge they face – has high or low numeracy.”

More at Illinois News Bureau