Law School Discussion

Socratic method & law school preparation

Socratic method & law school preparation
« on: February 22, 2006, 03:02:01 PM »
I've been told that it helps to take a Constitutional Law (or other law) class prior to law school to prepare for the Socratic method. I'm a prospective law student and am deciding whether to take such a course. Has anyone done so or know of someone who has? Was the class worthwhile?

Also, I have heard that taking a legal writing course and a course on the American legal system are helpful. Any thoughts on these? Thanks for your advice.

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2006, 03:31:42 PM »
taking a course simply for the sake of preparing for the socratic method is not wise. the socratic method is what it is - prof asks you questions and you answer. you'll get better it as time goes along but taking proactive steps pre-law school would be a complete waste of time. virtually all 1Ls come into the meat grinder that is LS knowing nothing about the socratic method and what constitutes a "good answer". you'll get a better idea as time goes along (as will everyone else) but there is absolutely not reason to prep for 1L socratic method unless you think that it will be some sort of problem / issue for you. i won't lie. it's scary at times. no one likes to be put on the spot in front of a group of their peers and then asked to deal with complex issues which you don't really understand. this is, however, something that you will go through together - and yes, you will all pretty much equally suck at it at the beginning. also, and maybe more importantly, (and this may be school dependent) the socratic method doesn't affect your grade in the least, unless you come completely unprepared. as long as you can form a semi-intelligible answre you'll get by.

in terms of the LRW stuff yeah a prep course might be a good idea, especially if your shcool gives out letter grades for its writing course. my school givse out P / NP, and I'm perfectly happy to ride out the tough learning curve in this setting :)

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2006, 03:45:57 PM »
I took one, and it didn't really help.  The professor didn't even use Socratic Method, he just called on volunteers.  He would ask them a follow up question or two, but it was hardly anything resembling what happens in law school. 

Like T. said, it doesn't matter if you suck at it, Socratic will do nothing for your grade unless you just totally blow it off and try to embarass the prof. or something like that.  I still suck at it and we're 6 months into 1L.  It's nothing to worry about at all.

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2006, 03:50:38 PM »
Enjoy your final year(s) in undergraduate...don't worry about preparing for law school.  It is what it is.  You will get used to it.  Everyone will be put on the spot and everyone will make an ass of themselves at some point.  You will all go through it.  Believe it or not, it isn't all that bad.  Typical first year sections are large at most schools, in excess of 50 people.  You will most likely only get the spotlight two maybe three times all semester.  Professors are different also.  Some will guide you along as you attempt to answer, others will leave you out to dry.  Some will keep you on the spot for the full class period, others for only a few minutes.  There is no preparing for it.  But once you get through your first semester, it will get easier.  And you will laugh at yourself when you screw-up.  And if you go to the right school, most of your classmates will be sympathetic since they will be going through it themselves...maybe the very next day.  So relax, take a deep breath.  Worry about law school then you are there, not before.  

Any writing course is good.  The more your write, the better you get at it.  Although legal writing itself is a different beast.  I would recommend that you have a firm grasp of how our judicial system is structured and basic tenents of our govoernment.  You would be surprised how many idiots don't know how a bill becomes a law before they get here.  Good luck to you!


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Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2006, 04:53:23 PM »
It can be a good idea IF you have a good class and professor at your undergrad.  My Con Law prof in undergrad was superb; I learned more in his class than I'm learning in Con Law right now in law school!  But it all depends on who is teaching the course.

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2006, 05:48:35 PM »
Disclaimer:  The following statement is based purely on my own personal experience through a semester and a half of law school at NU.  Things may be drastically different at other schools, or even in other sections at NU.

The Socratic Method is a myth.  In almost 6 months of law school I've been "cold called" on twice, and the first time I was warned at the beginning of class that he'd be asking me about a specific case.  For the most part professors ask for volunteers or form "panels" at the beginning of the semester, with 2 or 3 students scheduled to speak every day.  That way you know exactly when you're going to called on ahead of time.  Even when professors do randomly pick someone, there's nothing unique or special about it.  Here's an actual paraphrased example from my Torts II class today:

Torts prof: Imagine you're a newspaper editor and a reporter comes to you with a story about the local Congressman cheating on his law school exams.  He tells you his source is very reliable.  Given your potential liability for libel, would you print it? 

(Pause.  Nobody raises hand.)

Prof: Hmm... What about your Mr. Jones?

Jones: I'm sorry, I didn't do the reading.

Prof: Well I need someone who has... What about you Mr. Smith?

Smith: Well, would I personally be liable?

Prof: No, let's assume that you're only concerned about the newspaper's pocketbook in this case.

Smith: Then I guess I'd print it.  It seems reasonable if it's a reliable source who we've used before.

Prof: Well let's think about the New York Times standard.  How would you describe the Congressman?

Smith: He's a public figure.

Prof: I think he's more than that!

Smith: He's a.... big public figure.

(Class laughs.  Professor laughs.)

Prof: Well he's a public official.  And what does the New York Times standard require for libel against a public official?

Smith: That the publisher had to know the statement was false, or at least recklessly disregarded it. 

This might have gone on for another question or two.  Then people started raising hands to chime in with their own opinions, and for the rest of the class the professor fielded questions and various volunteers took shots at answers to questions he raised.  This is the most Socratic class I've ever had.  The Socratic Method does NOT involve a spotlight, standing in front of the class for 15 minutes at a time, ridicule, or sweating.  And in most classes, you know ahead of time when you're going to be called on.


Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2006, 08:34:38 PM »
consider yourself lucky :)

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2006, 10:04:23 PM »
What has your Socratic Method experience been like (and, if you like, please feel free to add where you guy to school)?


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Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2006, 05:01:41 AM »
I go to Emory, and the socratic method is a bit of a joke here.  It's not nearly as intense as some people here have it.

Most classes we're cold called, but it's not anywhere near as scary was people expect it to be.  None of the professors are hard-assed.  My contracts prof last semester could be a little intense, but honesty was the best policy, as long as you did the reading.  If you really were confused, and didn't know the answers, he'd quickly move on to a volunteer.  He didn't make you suffer for 20 minutes.

Essentially, it boils down to this:  If you do the reading, getting called on in class is NOT a big deal.  Profs (at least all the ones I've had) don't want to know inane, detailed facts; if you have a pretty good idea of a case, you're fine. 

And don't worry about "prepping" for the socratic method.  It's scary at first, but remember that 1L is a learning curve.  Over prepare for the first couple weeks of class so you can see what a prof wants from students, and you'll know how detailed your facts are.  As for the reasoning of a case, everyone's struggling with what's important and what's not.  You'll hopefully figure it out sometime during your first semester, but it takes time, and it sort of happens when it happens.  It's when everything starts to "click."

Re: Socratic method & law school preparation
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2006, 07:53:46 AM »
I don't see the point in "preparing" for the Socratic Method, and I doubt any law student would say otherwise.

But I do think taking a Con Law class in undergrad may be a good way to prepare for your law school class.  I know that I did well in my Con Law class because I already had a relatively good understanding of the history.  Your undergrad Con Law might be a very interesting class anyway.  If you think the professor is good, I would recommend it.