Warming Up to Cold Calls or How I Learned to Love the Socratic Method

Facing a yes-or-no question in Civil Procedure, I confidently responded, “no!”

“I’m looking for an alternate answer,” the professor replied, with a sympathetic chuckle.

Each new semester of my three years here brought up a familiar worry: What if the professor is tough on cold calls? Fortunately, there’s not much need to worry. Everyone messes up a few cold calls or gets a wrong answer here or there, and nobody remembers those moments for long! But we are law students and want to do the best we can, so here are some tips to sharpen your Socratic skills:

  • Speed reading: It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the basics on cases by skimming through, or examining the headnotes on Lexis Advance or Westlaw before a close re-read, and a briefing that neatly summarizes the rule of law and the court’s reasoning. Law case reading is a skill that you can master with practice. Try to recognize your assumptions about the law, and open your mind to the law the courts will apply. For more tips on reading cases, see LexisNexis’ guide: How to Read a Law School Casebook.
  • Find your study aid: The law library’s study skills collection offers a huge variety of guides through Wolters Kluwer, West Academic, and CALI.  But don’t stress about using everything; you get an edge by understanding course material, and some guides may contain information on doctrines that are not on your syllabus, in your reading, or in the class discussion. No need to worry! Just find the study strategy that works for you when you need it, and focus on what your professors want you to know. Learn more about study aids here: 1L Resource Guide: Study Materials and here How Do I Know Which Study Guides are Right for Me?
  • Case briefing: Whether you are highlighting, book briefing by marking the areas of text containing issue statements or the controlling rule, or composing marginalia as you study and write your case brief, focus on identifying the most important facts, rules, and the specific reasons the court ruled the way it did. Are you highlighting all the facts, or more effectively zeroing in on the key details that the court identified as the determining factor? It’s a skill you can learn, and CALI provides a lesson on effective case briefing.
  • Active listening: Even when you don’t get the cold call, try to imagine how you would answer if you were on the hot seat. The professor teaches the whole class through each individual student’s cold calls, and by noticing the right things, you can give yourself an edge for finals week. And you will start to understand better what factors the court considers when deciding points of law if you pay close attention. It’s a skill that will serve you well in the courtroom or a meeting with the partners. Learn more about active listening here, Active Listening and here, Listening Skills in the Law School Classroom.
  • Meet with a Librarian: With JDs and experience instructing students, the Ross-Blakley Law Library’s reference librarians can answer your questions and set you up to succeed with your legal research, writing, and doctrinal studies. Make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian or contact us with questions: Ask a Librarian.

Andrea GassLaw Library Research Fellow