A Primer On Critical Thinking

A Primer On Critical Thinking

A Primer On Critical Thinking

The California Desert Trial Academy (CDTA) provides instruction on the soft skills – those skills that go beyond the basic training of the substantive law that many traditional law schools are content to teach, and only teach. Why? Traditional law schools do not seriously consider these skills to be part of the “academic core” of their standard curriculum, although they are absolutely essential for anyone who wants to be an effective attorney-advocate with a successful and prosperous legal practice.

The California Desert Trial Academy’s unique learning platform emphasizes that students learn the soft skills in addition to the core substantive law. What are soft skills? Some of these skills are people skills; some are management skills; some are technical, and some are analytical. CDTA teaches students to be adept in the following areas:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Core values review
  • Professionalism
  • Ethics and professional conduct
  • Negotiation
  • Time management
  • Enterprise management
  • Persuasive writing
  • Presentation
  • Research


Critical thinking is at the top of this list for a reason. Without critical thinking skills, one may only limitedly develop all the other soft and hard skills. The success of critical thinking is directly related to the ability of the individual’s self-direction, self-discipline, self-monitoring, and self-correction. It also requires effective communication abilities.

An experienced critical thinker

  • raises vital questions that are clearly and precisely formulated;
  • effectively interprets an issue after gathering and assessing all relevant information;
  • arrives at well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, tested against relevant standards and criteria;
  • thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as necessary, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in developing solutions to complex problems.


The following thought process for critical thinking is proffered by Carriveau (2016), adapted from Willingham (2007), as an exercise to develop critical thinking skills:

  • Am I accepting the first conclusion that sounds reasonable?
  • Am I failing to look at both sides of an issue?
  • Am I discounting new evidence that disconfirms my personal ideas?
  • Am I reasoning from passion rather than logic?
  • Am I failing to support statements and claims with evidence?
  • Am I failing to deduce and infer conclusions from available facts?
  • Am I failing to follow the evidence to an unbiased conclusion?


Note this highly quoted quote about the development of proficient critical thinking skills (P.A. Facione, 2016):

A student will be considered proficient in critical thinking when the student is able to demonstrate the ability to reach a judgment that is judicious and purposive through an engagement process involving analysis, interpretation, evaluation, inference, explanation, and meta-cognitive self-regulation. The student will demonstrate that he can reach sound, objective decisions and resolutions to complex, ill-structured problems by applying reasons and evidence wherever they lead and will do so with a disposition of fairness and open-mindedness.

However, teaching students to think critically must be taught in the context of subject matter and practical application. Teachers shouldn’t simply teach students to think critically without context. The open-mindedness and spontaneity of considering all sides of an issue, while questioning their underlying assumptions, is not a method of thinking to which humans gravitate naturally. They tend to rely on their biases and knowledge base with little or no additional thought. Students must have context and opportunities to practice, especially in the classroom.

The California Desert Trial Academy supplements traditional law school curriculum with both hard and soft skills, as well as the values and historical perspective that equip students to be lawyers on the day that they graduate from the CDTA. At CDTA, we train, educate, and develop students to be exceptional attorneys and trial advocates. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more online here.

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