Daily Archives: September 12, 2018

The Socratic Method and You

“I cannot teach anybody anything.  I can only make them think.”
– Socrates

As a law student you have no doubt experienced the Socratic Method instructional model, which is based on the asking and answering of questions in class with the goal of stimulating critical thinking.  You can thank Christopher Columbus Landell for that, who as the Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895 introduced this method to legal education.  Before Landell, legal instruction was based on the lecture model, in which students memorized material from an instructional textbook and were lectured on that material in class.

Many law professors now combine the Socratic Method with the Case Method, in which they question students about appellate-level court cases to help them explore the rules that can be derived from those cases.  While this instructional model has a fair number of critics, it is something that you will need to become comfortable with in law school.  Below are a few ideas from the Law School Academic Support Blog on turning the Socratic Method into a more positive experience:

1) Recognize what questions the professor almost always asks about each case during class.  Think about the answers to those standard questions during your class preparation.

2) Before class, consider the case from 360 degrees.  In addition to understanding the case deeply (its separate case brief parts and details), consider the case more broadly (how does it fit with the other cases read for that day and into the larger topic).

3) When called on, think about the question asked and take a deep breath before answering.  Many mistakes are made because students blurt out something they immediately realize is wrong or answer a different question than actually asked.

4) Remember that most people in class are not judging you when you are the student called on for Socratic Method.  About a third are relieved it was not them.  About a third are looking ahead frantically because they realize their turns are coming up.  About a third are busy taking notes and looking for the answers.

Be sure to also check out Cracking the Case Method: Legal Analysis for Law School Success or 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School , both are available in the Study Skills Collection of the Law Library, for more ideas on how to master the Socratic Method.