Think back to when you were in law school: Learning and retaining black letter law was essential to your success. Beyond law school exams, you then needed to pass the multistate professional responsibility exam and, ultimately, the bar exam. Those required additional memorization and retention of vast amounts of information. Many of us used the tried-and-true method of flashcards to build up our knowledge to prepare for these exams. Anyone remember Emanuel Law in a Flash cards by Wolters Kluwer? These served the purpose of teaching core black letter law concepts to first-year law students.
While you may have repressed memories of studying for those exams, as attorneys we are required by our rules of professional responsibility to be lifelong learners in order to be competent in our practices. Thus we constantly need to learn and retain many concepts to be successful. For example, as a litigator you must know all the court rules and facts about your cases to cite quickly and accurately before a tribunal; as a tax attorney you need to learn specific details of an ever-changing tax code; or as a corporate attorney, to win the business of a prospective organizational client, you need to know everything about that organization, such as management names, titles and roles, before pitching at an important meeting.
The Science of Spaced Repetition
Here’s where the science of “space repetition” comes in. Rather than trying to learn all the court rules the day before the trial, spaced repetition helps you remember more information, and for a longer period of time, by studying at certain spaced intervals. According to some studies, people who cram learning into short periods of time retain less than half of the information an hour later, which is further reduced in the days and weeks that follow. That isn’t efficient for your practice.
Moreover, the effectiveness of spaced repetition has been studied. In a Harvard study with medical students, those studying by the spaced repetition method recalled nearly three times as much information as those who did not use this method.
Now, to take this a step further with technology, let’s look at one particular tool simply known as SpacedRepetition.com. SpacedRepetition.com is a learning platform that uses an algorithm based on spaced repetition science to customize studying. This product is the result of a legal technology project led by professor Gabe Teninbaum. Teninbaum directs Suffolk Law School’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation and teaches courses on legal technology, legal writing/analysis/research and negotiation. He founded SpacedRepetition.com in 2014 to help law students improve learning and test taking. But its applications beyond law school are limitless. Teninbaum encourages people to “think of [this] tool to remember anything that you need to remember.”
SpacedRepetition.com predicts precisely when you need to review certain information and then presents it to you at those times. You are not therefore constantly reviewing the same material over and over in a short few days but rather reviewing it with less frequency over a period of time. According to SpacedRepetition.com’s own data analysis, students using its algorithm remembered nearly four times as much after one month when compared with those studying by traditional methods.
This science has also been used in other industries. For example, companies have used the science to help train salespeople on their products. Think about memorizing the intricacies of photocopiers or automobile specifications.
The Technology of SpacedRepetition.com
You can access SpacedRepetition.com through a web browser and thus on any device that has access to the internet. The user interface is simple. Along with collaboration tools and card directories, the study material is at its core—that is, electronic flashcards. You simply read the card and then click. The card flips over to the resulting answer. But there’s more.
To fuel its algorithm, each time you answer a question, SpacedRepetition.com prompts you to evaluate how well you thought you knew the answer to the question. SpacedRepetition.com then uses that data to calculate how often you need to see the card based upon the concept of spaced repetition. It won’t serve up that card again until it is precisely the right time to do so. The more you review the card and become more confident with your answer, the less frequently you’ll see the card. According to the science, you should be able to recall the information for a longer period of time.
Specific Uses for Lawyers
SpacedRepetition.com provides users with the ability to create private flashcards with content of their choosing, such as the facts of a case. You also have the option to subscribe to predeveloped crowdsourced card sets. Currently these sets are aimed at law students, but future sets may contain specific court rules, statutes, regulations and more.
I asked Teninbaum what potential uses he envisioned for legal professionals. He responded:
- To train new attorneys (e.g., a new assistant district attorney who needs to know those 10 cases that define the parameters for bail decisions and to be able to reel off chapter and verse to support an argument).
- To learn stuff about the underlying subject matter of litigation (e.g., a medical malpractice attorney, trying a case against a cardiologist, who needs to thoroughly know the medicine to take a deposition).
- To stay fresh as an experienced attorney (e.g., a tax lawyer who wants to know every section of the tax code can learn it all—one little bit at a time—and keep it all in memory by spending just a few minutes a day on the site).
- To have better client relationships (e.g., the associate who uploads a picture of every client—or partner, opposing counsel or judge—on the front of individual digital cards and on the back includes his or her name, key facts about the representation and a personal fact about the client, such as whether he or she owns horses or flies airplanes).
Teninbaum also cites nonlegal examples of people using this product to learn foreign languages, even one user who used it to win a National Latin Exam Gold Medal Award, which covers grammar, language, mythology, Roman culture and more.
While the product was founded for law school uses, the software and science offer great potential for the legal industry at large. Some in the industry have already taken notice. SpacedRepetition.com was named one of the best 20 Legal IT Innovations in the world by ALM/Legal Week. Wolters Kluwer, the major legal book publisher, recently announced that it would migrate all of its physical Emanuel Law in a Flash flashcards to SpacedRepetition.com. And that’s just the beginning.
Through one focused algorithm, SpacedRepetition.com presents a new type of learning tool that can help lawyers learn and recall any information in their practices.