The Socratic method in law school

My law school favored the Socratic method, which is in theory a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. At the outset of law school, you are told not read commercial law school outlines, legal treatises, or summaries of the law, as this interferes with the Socratic method learning process. (Read more: Tom Rice. Answered May 23, 2017. Do you read entire legal books in law school?

In the use of the Socratic method in law school, you read only historical (and many times outdated or conflicting) judicial decisions, and are told little definitive about the current law. How you learn is by stating your opinion about the cases you read, listening to the criticisms of your opinion given by your law professor and other classmates, and afterwards volleying back with your counter-arguments about why you were right in the first place (with slight tweaks or concessions to cover any weaknesses in your initial opinion).

Under the Socratic method you learn out of necessity how to reason out legal concepts on your own. If you asked a law professor “What is the current law?” or “What is the specific ruling by the court?”, the response would usually be “What do you think?”, followed by the law professor asking another law student “What do think about Mr. ____’s statement?”, followed by the law professor asking another law student “What do you think about Ms.____’s opinion about Mr. ____ ’s statement?” And on and on….with no clear answer ever given.

At the end of the semester in any course you are left with your best guesstimate about the law, just in time for your one and only written essay exam which is your sole grade for the course. Your test grade is more often than not based on how many legal issues you spot in the exam questions and how creatively you argue both sides of those issues as opposed to giving the “correct” answer to any one of those issues.

The inherent value of the Socratic method in law school is that you learn how to accept almost no general rule of law as absolutely true in all instances, and you learn how to argue in support of reasonable exceptions or possibly entirely new concepts of law. For this reason our American common law continues to evolve, arguably for the better.

If my explanation of the Socratic method and how it works in law school is unclear, I recommend that you watch the movie The Paper Chase. This is the quintessential law school movie. The Paper Chase depicts the tough contracts professor that most law schools boast, and you will see the Socratic method at work. As Professor Charles Kingsfield tells his class on opening day, "You come in here with a skull full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer."

How do you pass the bar? Following law school graduation, you take an expensive six week immersive bar exam prep course that does provide you with definitive answers about the current law. Pay attention during the bar exam prep course and take as many practice bar exams as you can. Read more: Tom Rice. Answered May 23, 2017. Do you read entire legal books in law school?