Mention the Socratic Method to law students and you will elicit groans, curse words and the like. It is a rite of passage that virtually all law students endure. Whenever you even think you are about to be called upon the bottom of your stomach falls down to your ankles. Your mouth gets dry and you feel yourself breaking out into a cold sweat. And then you hear another name called out and you relax until the next time. Unless you were the one called on. At that moment, every articulate sentence you have ever thought, everything you read about the case, any word over one syllable leaves your mind and you are left to embarrass yourself.
So first I am going to share how I get past this and second I am going to share why law schools still continue using this antiquated method of teaching (fyi the Socratic Method is named after Socrates).
The best way I have found to get past your stomach falling to your knees is twofold. The first is to actually be prepared and read. Yes, I said read the cases. I can now almost hear the groans. But it’s true, you have a lot less fear if you’re actually prepared. The second way is don’t look at your book. Take a deep breath, look ar your professor and just talk like she is any other person that you’re explaining this to. For me, as soon as I look at my book while trying to glean any more information than I already have in my mind, I forget what I know. So, I actually put one arm on my book so I can’t see it and my other elbow on my desk with my hand under my chin so I am forced to look at the professor. This keeps me centered and allows me to just share what I studied.
Why do schools use the Socratic method. There are myriad reasons, one of which is this is how they learned. But seriously, this is also how a judge will someday talk to us. Most law professors have your best interest at heart. There is usually one or two at every law school that is a misanthropic sadist, but the majority of law professors are there to help you become the best lawyer you can be. They want to prepare you for the real world. Have you every watched a panel of judges (such as a state supreme court) drill the attorneys that are presenting their case before them? I have, and it’s not pretty. They don’t take anyone’s side, they just shoot holes in everybody’s case. It is so much worse than the Socratic method, and it’s for real; people’s lives hang in the balance. If you can’t stand up to the pressure, you could have someone facing the death penalty for your inability to endure the stress.
So, the next time you are called in class, take a deep breath and realize that no one’s life is in the balance today. Realize that this is just the practice session for the real game. So grab that ball and run with it, welcome it, it is your friend.