The Socratic Method

Say goodbye to the good old undergraduate method in which professors spoon feed the material to students through lectures. In law school, professors use the Socratic Method, which requires students to distill the information themselves.

What is the Socratic Method?

The professor (like the Greek philosopher Socrates) will pose a sequence of questions, leading you to think through legal concepts and problems. As painful as it may seem, the Socratic Method can teach you to analyze cases, reason by analogy, think critically about legal arguments (yours and those presented by others), understand the effects of the law and perceive underlying social policy. The experience of answering probing questions under pressure also builds confidence and prepares you for your future as an attorney.

Common Socratic Method Questions

  • Recite the facts, issue, holding and rationale of a case
  • How does the holding of this case affect the XYZ case that we talked about yesterday?
  • Does this case overrule XYZ case?
  • Do you agree with the holding of this case? Why or why not?
  • Analyze the following hypothetical situation in which the facts differ slightly from the facts of the previous case
  • Present a counterargument to an argument presented by another student

Active Listening

Even if you’re not the one in the hot seat, pretend that you are. Really listen to the question posed by the professor and think about how you would answer the question. Take note of where the professor guides the discussion. This will shed light on what the professor thinks is important.

Taking Notes

  • Consider using a laptop to take notes
  • Be organized—use bullet points or outline format
  • Use headings and organize by case name or issue
  • The questions are often more important than the answers given by the students
  • Be selective when taking down another student's answer—does it seem responsive to the question, does it sound right or is it way off base?
  • If the professor lectures, write down as much as possible because you’re likely to see it on the exam

You’re in the “Hot Seat”!

  • STOP taking notes—you can get them later from a classmate
  • NEVER try to respond to questions if you haven’t done the reading—admit it, take the heat and hopefully the professor will move on. (But expect to be called on in the next class!)
  • Talk a deep breath and remain calm
  • Be prepared to recite facts, issue and holding of a case—your brief is great for this
  • Listen to the professor’s questions or hypotheticals (sometimes these come from note cases)
  • Don’t allow yourself to become paralyzed by fear of giving the wrong answer
  • Think of it as merely a dialog between you and the professor; try to block out the fact that the rest of the class is looking on

Preparing for Class

After a few classes, you’ll get a feel for the types of questions a professor asks during class. Armed with this information, you can read your assignments with an eye toward these types of questions and prepare for them ahead of time.

Calm Those Nerves!

It’s the rare student who enjoys being called on. Much of our anxiety stems from fear of embarrassment, fear of giving the wrong answer or looking stupid in front of one’s classmates. Remember that everyone else in class is thinking, “thank goodness it wasn’t me.” It’s a waste of time to be concerned with what other students think of your performance: many aren’t listening anyway, and those that are will likely not have a lasting memory of the incident. Thus, giving a “wrong” answer or not performing as well as you would have liked is not the catastrophe that you think it is. Also, remember that grading is anonymous, so your grade does not depend upon your performance in class. Even if the professor gives push points, they’re generally based on whether you were prepared and could contribute to the discussion, not so much whether you gave “brilliant” answers in class.

Questions?

Please email Kiyana Kiel, call (619) 260-6876 or stop by Warren Hall, Room 206.

Contact:

Law Student Affairs
Warren Hall, Room 218
Phone: (619) 260-4651
Fax: (619) 260-7715

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