4 Points to Help You Understand the Socratic Method That Law Schools Use

  • What is the Socratic Method used in law schools?
  • First of all, it is a method of law school instruction that is unlike how anything was taught in undergrad.
  • Secondly, as a law student, the Socratic Method comes out right at you in your first year of law school.
  • Third, this teaching method can be the determining factor as to whether you continue your legal education or quit law altogether.

Summary: What is the Socratic Method? It is what you will not only be learning during your first year of law school but also utilizing throughout the rest of your education and onward into your career.


There’s no doubt Socrates would get a huge kick out of today’s American law schools. Where the Greek philosopher’s teachings eventually condemned Socrates to drink poisoned hemlock, his form of teaching is now taught heavily throughout law schools across the country.

Of course not all of us are familiar with Socrates, let alone Greek philosophy.

What can be disseminated from Socrates is his style of instruction is the backbone of teaching within the law school curriculum, particularly during the first year of law school.

U.S. News and World Report recently published an article that defines exactly what the Socratic Method is and how it applies to the way first year law students are taught the principles of law. Keep reading to find out what the Socratic Method is, how it is utilized in law schools today and why law students need to understand the Socratic Method as soon as possible.
 
  1. What is the Socratic method of teaching law?

A key distinction between a prospective law student’s undergraduate education and their now-pending legal education is the way their classes are taught.

And as legal education experts insist, all aspiring lawyers need to mentally prepare themselves for the intensity of this new style of instruction the moment their first year of law school begins.

This style of instruction uses a pedagogical technique known as the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method involves cold-calling on students and interrogating them about the facts and decisions in various court cases.

"The Socratic method comes from the Greek philosopher Socrates," Lance J. Robinson, a criminal defense attorney and trial lawyer in New Orleans, wrote in an email. "His idea was to teach his students by asking question after question, which helped them think critically about their ideas and refine their beliefs."
 
"We still use this method today in law schools, because it is often similar to cross-examination. By asking a series of questions meant to expose contradictions in students' ideas, they can be guided toward more solid conclusions while also learning how to find the flaws in someone else's thinking," he says.
 
  1. How do students react to the Socratic Method of legal instruction?

Depending upon the constitution of the student, reaction to this form of instruction can vary.

Some find it enlightening while others feel the Socratic Method is abrasive, confrontational and disarming. Along with…
 
  • …High law school tuition costs
  • The difficulty of learning the technical aspects of law
  • The pace of law school
  • A general inability to perform the work needed to successfully complete law school…

… The Socratic Method is blamed for many first year law school dropouts.
It is a hard, in your face type of instruction for which a certain amount of backbone is needed to successfully maneuver a legal answer within the method’s context.
 
  1. What are the benefits to law students who learn law within the Socratic Method’s system?

While the Socratic Method may at first appear to be harsh, the benefits of this teaching style far outweigh the temporary hurt a law student might experience after having been the focus of how the Socratic Method operates within a law school setting.
 
  • A different way of instruction: In nearly all undergraduate classroom curriculums, lecturers lecture and professors procure understanding through a non-confrontational method of instruction. In essence, undergraduate instructors speak to students, especially in one’s freshman and sophomore years in which academia is dispelled in large lecture hall with hundreds of other students. 
  • The Socratic Method of instruction is the complete opposite of undergraduate instruction: Invariably the Socratic Method spins undergraduate instruction around 180-degrees. The Socratic Method is far more involving and with that, engaging. Much of this is due to the classroom sizes being much smaller than those in the undergraduate ranks. This way, a professor can afford to concentrate longer and more detailed instruction with his pedagogy, while also staging his or her classroom as more of a courtroom settings in which the law students can argue their points as they relate to a legal issue or situation. 
  • What are the benefits of being taught within the Socratic Method? This method of instruction, if embraced by the first year law student can procure a legal foundation based on that law student’s ability to argue a case. Right off the bat the student is made to defend him/herself within the Socratic Method. Learn this form of question and answer within your first year of law school, and it will invariably pay off with an ability to conduct stronger and more comprehensive arguments, which will be beneficial while going forward with your legal education as well as eventuality that you will one day practice law.
 
  1. How can prospective law students prepare for the Socratic Method of teaching law?

Because law skates a thin line between real life and a life deduced to the abstract and philosophical, there is no real or effective way to prepare to learn within the Socratic Method. You can’t just go up to the checker in a grocery store or to a bank teller, ask them a question and then engage them in an argument in which their answers are broken down.

Do this in a world outside of a courtroom or within the safe confines of a law school classroom, and you will soon be disliked by your friends and family.

No, the best way to prepare for the Socratic Method is to first understand the method will quickly be established within the law school you choose to attend.

You can somewhat prepare for the Socratic Method by creating mock situations with yourself in which you are asked a question that you answer and then afterward have to support with valid supporting material.

But even as that is not the most optimal way to prepare for the Socratic Method, the only real way to learn the method is to experience it.
 
Conclusion

While understandably daunting, the Socratic Method is just a different way of thinking. Its deductive properties to each answer given within the method can eventually instill increased confidence within all future lawyers in which they look at cases in a more step-by-step and detailed manner that can more directly get to a legal issue’s bottom line.