What is the Socratic Method and why do law schools use it? | Best law schools
One of the main distinctions between college and law school is the way courses are taught, and legal education experts say aspiring lawyers need to mentally prepare for the intensity of a first year law course.
Unlike college professors and instructors, law professors The teaching of introductory law courses often uses a teaching technique known as the Socratic method, which involves cold calling and questioning students about the facts and decisions rendered in various court cases.
“The Socratic method comes from the Greek philosopher Socrates”, launches J. Robinson, lawyer of the criminal defense and Trial lawyer in New Orleans, wrote in an email. “His idea was to teach his students by asking question after question, which helped them to think critically about their ideas and refine their beliefs.”
“We still use this method today in law schools because it is often akin to cross-examination. By asking a series of questions designed to expose contradictions in students’ ideas, they can be guided to more solid conclusions while learning to find faults in someone else’s thinking, ”he says.
Joe Bogdan – Partner in the Chicago office of the law firm Culhane Meadows and Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago – says that one of the advantages of the Socratic Method is that it allows students to imagine themselves as judges and to imagine how they would resolve legal disputes.
Another advantage of the method, he says, is that it shows law students what are the most compelling arguments on both sides of important legal issues so that once they become lawyers, they can win legal debates and represent effectively their customers.
Bogdan says prospective law students should prepare for Socratic Method classes by strengthening their public speaking skills. Those still in college should practice raising their hands in undergraduate courses and gain confidence in their ability to communicate effectively, he suggests. Participation in extracurricular activities like student government can also be helpful.
Bogdan adds that people who are used to giving public speeches will be less intimidated by the possibility of saying something bad in public and will be able to keep their cool under the pressure of being cold called to a Socratic Method class.
“In law school, this teaching method is taken to its most extreme form and will often involve ‘grilling’ a particular student question after question, testing the limits of their knowledge, preparation and, most importantly, their blood. -cold, ”Tim Dominguez, a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, wrote in an email.
Experts say that an important thing law school applicants should know about the Socratic Method is that while this teaching technique can be intimidating, the purpose of using it is not to embarrass or dull it. ‘humiliate the students. The goal, experts say, is to train law students to think and speak like lawyers.
“There is a tendency to feel attacked when you are put on the spot and when what you say and what you think is called into question,” says Mark Tyson, a Seattle-based business lawyer, who received his JD from the Washington University School of Law in 2013. “There is a tendency to feel like the interviewer has it all for you, and the more a law student believes in it, the worse they will face the Socratic method. “
“The point of doing this is not to make you, as a law student, feel bad about yourself. It is really to force yourself to stand up for what you say you believe or what you say. than you think about and do it in a public setting, ”Tyson says.
Nora Demleitner – professor of law and former dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia, says prospective law students should know that their eloquence in answering questions in first-year law courses using the Socratic method will have little or no influence on their grades in those courses. “The goal is really to do well on the final exam,” she says.
Demleitner says first-year law students should spend most of their time and energy analyzing cases they’ve already discussed in class by creating blueprints that define the connections between the different cases.
Sara Suleiman, a Chicago based intellectual property lawyer and partner at Dinsmore & Shohl law firm, says: “The Socratic method was not my best memory of law school. ”
“It can be nerve-racking and can cause a lot of anxiety, especially early in a student’s first year,” says Suleiman, who now teaches law courses as an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University College of Law. “But I think over time you just have to figure out how to be better prepared and get used to this new system, and it’s all about the transition.”
Wyoming-based attorney Jeff Van Fleet says the Socratic Method helps aspiring attorneys cultivate balance in high-pressure situations, which is an important skill for a lawyer when defending the interests of his clients. .
“A professional fighter trains by practicing his technique, an athlete trains by practicing the movements and strategy of his position, and a soldier trains by practicing the formations and procedures to be successful on the battlefield. ‘combative arena that a lawyer enters is a courtroom,’ Van Fleet wrote in an email. “To be successful in competition or in combat takes practice, training and preparation. Thus, the law schools of this country require the use of the Socratic method.
Another strength of the Socratic Method beyond its ability to cultivate courage and calm, according to Van Fleet, is that it allows professors to check whether students have understood the legal documents they are reading by asking them explain the arguments put forward in these documents. “There is a difference between regurgitating facts and doing a legal analysis of facts,” he says.
Van Fleet says he enjoyed his Socratic Method law lessons. “It’s like a game, because you have the opportunity to practice a skill so that, the day someone’s life depends on your response, you’re good to go,” he says. “The great thing about law school is that you can answer these questions and, if you’re wrong, no one loses. They won’t go to jail and they won’t lose their livelihood. . This is just another opportunity for you to learn and grow. “