Socratic Method in Law School

Examples of the Socratic Method in Law School

Law school and the Socratic Method go hand-in-hand. The Socratic Method, commonly referred to as “cold calling,” dates back to Socrates. This method is based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking. You will not escape law school without a cold call and you should be prepared to be put on the spot. Professors often use this method for hypothetical applications of law or to review a case.

Examples of the Socratic Method in Law School

Moreover, you have probably already been exposed to the Socratic Method in law school from TV shows or movies. Just about everyone has seen Legally Blonde and knows that questions from a law professor can make or break you. The best pop culture explanation of the Socratic Method comes from 1973’s Paper Chase. Watch this clip, and you will understand the what and the why of the Socratic Method.

What you Should Expect from the Socratic Method in Law School

Each and every professor approaches the Socratic Method in law school differently. Some professors will call out names at random or stick with that same person throughout the class. Others will have a list of students or a seating chart they follow to call on students. No matter the style, we guarantee you will be cold-called throughout law school, and it is something you should become accustomed to.

One great way to become better aquatinted with the Socratic Method in law school is to sit in on an actual class. The law school’s admissions office can often arrange for you to observe a class, but you can also reach out to professors directly. We recommend you sit in on a first-year course to best prepare yourself for when you begin. These would be classes like Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, or Real Property. However, you may be more aware of Tort and Criminal Law before beginning school and, therefore, have a chance to be more engaged.

If you can’t get yourself into a classroom before starting law school, check out this Inside the Classroom video!

University of Virginia Law School: Contracts with Professor George Cohen

Examples of the Socratic Method in Law school

You can find excellent examples of the Socratic Method in law school on YouTube. Here is an example of the Socratic Method that calls on students at random to argue both sides of a case.

University of Georgia School of Law—Evidence class

Here is an example with insight from the professor’s perspective.

This is also an excellent opportunity to assure you most everyone has a bad cold call from time to time. Your first cold call will be new territory, and you shouldn’t let yourself get too anxious. One note to remember is no one will recall what you said the next day. So, do your best and keep moving forward. Plus, the finest learning in law school comes from stumbling through a messy, cold call. You will never forget what the professor was looking for!

How to Prepare for the Socratic Method in Law School

Don’t over-prepare! Remember, your cold calls are not graded, your exam is. This means you want the vast majority of your study plans to be geared towards your outline and test day. However, don’t neglect speaking in class. Working through material verbally is an excellent learning tool. Nevertheless, resist the urge to brief every case. Check out our reasons why we think briefing every case is overrated!

You will want to know the basic facts of the case, the journey of the case to reach this court’s opinion (procedural posture), the reasoning, and the holding. The Socratic Method is designed to make you think critically, so consider the case’s arguments. These can be written down in short form to help activate your memory in class.

Again, a bad cold call is not the end of the world. We all experience them, and we all recover. Do your readings and keep your eye on exam day, and you will surely succeed!

Check out these tips on how to survive a cold call experience!

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