Catholic University Law Review


This Article presents the results of the first empirical research project to investigate law students’ use of defensive pessimism. Previous researchers have suggested that defensive pessimism may benefit law students academically. Defensive pessimism is a strategy that involves setting low expectations and reflecting extensively on what could go wrong in connection with a future event in order to manage anxiety and improve performance. However, up until now, law students’ use of defensive pessimism has not been empirically studied.

We investigated law students’ use of defensive pessimism. Contrary to the suggestions of other scholars, we did not find statistically significant relationships between defensive pessimism and law school academic performance. However, we did find positive relationships between defensive pessimism and neuroticism, and defensive pessimism and perceived stress.

These results suggest that legal educators cannot rely exclusively on academic performance to identify students who are in distress. Students may be in distress in law school but that distress may not be manifested in lower academic performance. Moreover, legal educators should be mindful of the different strategies that students’ use in performance situations in order to more constructively interact with law students and better prepare students to work effectively with others who may not necessarily use the same strategies.