How do I survive the Socratic method in law school?
The structure of most law school classes is probably unlike any other class you have been in. Instead of coming to class to be lectured at for the majority of the period, you will be expected to participate heavily. Many professors employ the classic Socratic method and randomly call on a few students throughout class. Some professors put their own unique spin on the method and allow students to sign up for the days that they will be on call or they simply assign you dates that you will be called upon and they tell you the dates of your assignment. Regardless of your professors’ approaches, the following tips should help you through your on call experiences:
How to survive the Socratic method in law school
If you are lucky enough to pick the dates upon which you will be on call, make sure you pick dates that allow you enough time to prepare. Also, make sure you write your dates down so that you remember when you are on call.
We know this is easier said than done. However, the truth is that every other law student in your class is in your exact same position and they are probably nervous they will be called on next. So, what does that mean for you? This means that your classmates really don’t care if you don’t provide the most perfect or articulate answer—they are focused on the material and hoping that they don’t get called on. If you struggle to relax, try to get excited about being on call! (This tip is super-effective for some students so we recommend you try it out!)
The best way to combat a stressful experience, like being on call, is to prepare. This doesn’t mean read your assigned cases over and over again—as there are better ways to prepare. Rather, you should read your cases and then figure out what they mean. Look up the case brief to get a better grasp of the rules and facts. A lot of students find it helpful to book brief ahead of class to make answering the professor’s questions easier.
Look at your notes
If you are spending time preparing for class, bring whatever notes or work product you create into class with you. Professors do not expect that you have the material memorized, so you will be able to refer to your book, notes, or whatever you bring with you. If you are not a fan of briefing cases (we aren’t either; it is too time-intensive!), briefly book brief them before class. (This means you highlight the facts, arguments made by the parties, etc.) This is a good way to prepare for class!
While you are sitting in class listening to what the professor is asking your classmates, take note of the types of questions that are being asked. For example:
- Does your professor hone in on the facts?
- Does your professor ask about the rule of law and then give the on call student multiple hypotheticals?
- Does your professor ask students to define legal vocabulary that is found in the case?
Keeping in mind that the way that your professor conducts class will help you prepare for when you are on call.
Yep, you read that right. Sometimes, if you are really prepared and feeling somewhat confident, volunteering to be on call or simply raising your hand to answer a question posed, will help you gain confidence for the times that you are randomly picked to speak. Or, some professors take note of who volunteers when asked and are less likely to pick those students at random. Either way, you gain confidence!