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Archive for August, 2008

When you hear your name echo throughout the lecture hall for the first time, your heart flips and skips a beat. For just a moment, you miss what the professor is saying; a portion of his question is drowned out by the hammering of your pulse. And just like that, your law school debut has arrived. You’ve heard the question – or at least part of it – and now the class awaits the answer.

If you have read a book or viewed a movie about the law school experience, you are by now aware of a handy little educational tool known as the Socratic method.[1] Depicted in such films as The Paper Chase and even (gulp) Legally Blonde, and made infamous in Scott Turow’s instructive (if decidedly melodramatic) memoir One L, the Socratic method is widely made out to be the worst aspect of a legal education; the greatest of trials to be endured.

This author is here to bring you peace and tranquility in the form of a five-part series on Surviving the Socratic Method. Seriously, it’s easy. Just read these posts.

The first technique is to take a deep breath and gain some needed perspective. Old people like to moan about the Socratic method and tell stories about how horrible it was back when they were sitting in old wooden chairs, scratching out notes with a number two pencil, and sweating in their powdered wigs.

But I’ve got some good news – you’re not old (probably). Today’s law student can take some solace in the simple passage of years.[2] More and more law schools are moving away from what is being increasingly viewed as an old-fashioned and archaic form of instruction in favor of more dynamic classroom models. Students 1, Boring Law Schools 0.

A word of caution: even the most student-friendly law schools put a high premium on the dialogue between teacher and pupil. In other words, even if a law school tells you they don’t use the Socratic method, they probably do … they just don’t call it that anymore.[3] There is a simple reason for this: they believe that it works. Law schools across the board hold paramount the belief that a student must develop certain critical thinking and communication skills during his three years of legal education.[4] Engaging students in a dialogue is a tried and true means to this end.

No matter what method your law school employs to get students chatting, you will have to talk and do it in front of your peers. Law school material will often be slippery and ambiguous at best, and ridiculously convoluted at worst. And for many, the dialogue will take place in a manner not unlike an interrogation.[5] It makes for a juicy topic in most “doom and gloom” law school cautionary tales and becomes a huge negative in the minds of students.

Like many negative elements of law school, this need not be the case. A variety of strategies exist that make students’ lives easier when it comes to in-class participation. Whether it is dodging and surviving the Socratic method or knowing how to rack up voluntary “participation points,” students simply need to know the tricks of the trade. The next few posts will provide those hints and put you at ease regarding the Socratic method and all of its permutations. It will dispel some myths about the Socratic method by distinguishing fact from fiction, it will offer up some sneaky tricks for getting out of jams and finding answers, and it will instruct you on the best ways to control your own fate when it comes to participating in the law school dialogue. Stay tuned, folks. Keep your head on a swivel.


[1] After a long period of deliberation, this author has decided that you deserve footnotes in this blog. Not only will it prepare you for law school and the thousands of footnotes you will be forced to read in cases (not to mention insert into your own legal writing), but it also allows for more asides, anecdotes, and pop culture references. All of which will educate and entertain you beyond your wildest dreams.

[2] If you ever wish you were born to a different generation – say you mourn the fact that you were not able to witness the Space Race with the Soviets or think you would have made a good Flapper – count the current version of law school as one of those things that make this era totally worth it.

[3] Don’t be afraid to challenge schools on this point when you are visiting or interviewing. It is important to find out exactly how they plan to foster classroom participation and also fun to catch them in blatant lies.

[4] The possible exceptions to this are the law schools that exist simply to get you through the bar exam.

[5] Think Tom Cruise grilling Jack Nicholson on the stand in A Few Good Men, not Jack Bauer manhandling a suspect on 24. Law professors can be scary, but not that scary.

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Harvard Law Library

This collection of anecdotes and advice is meant to introduce something entirely new to the world … a little something I like to call a blog.

Okay, so it’s not the first blog to hit the Internets. It’s not even the millionth. But this author’s suspicion is that this blog will have some staying power. It’s going to turn a few heads.

Why? Because it’s the first blog to come along that tells you exactly how to skate, duck, dodge, and slack your way through law school. No posterity, no convoluted case briefing strategies, and no woe-is-me tales from the first day of school. Just proven advice for the J.D. candidate missing a little elbow grease. The hallowed halls of Harvard Law School? A playground. Yale? Dreamland. The University of Chicago? It’s a three-year vacation, people.

The author understands that you may doubt the validity of these claims, but rest assured – if you start tuning in regularly, you will see the blueprint unfold. How to get in. How to stay in. How to turn law school into a pleasure cruise. All while maintaining a good reputation, resume, and job prospects. It’s the classy way to slack off. This the blog law schools will wish never existed. (Actually, law schools are boring, so they probably wish all blogs never existed. But whatever.) Your ticket to true legal ease.

For realsies.

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