By Patrick Shine
Anyone who has seen the movie “The Paper Chase” is familiar with the scene from the first day of law school where Mr. Hart gets called on to recite the facts of the case Hawkins v. McGee (one of my favorite contract law cases). The professor berated Mr. Hart for not having read the case assigned for that class.
Calling on students rather than waiting for a student to volunteer is known as the Socratic Method. You may have heard stories of embarrassment. But your first class of 1L is likely the first place you’ll ever see it first hand. And unfortunately, in law school, it never entirely goes away.
In practice, this is sort of unpredictable. Everyone in the class was given the same notice on upcoming assignments and readings so everyone should be totally prepared…right? Wrong. It never fails. Someone is called on who did not complete the readings assigned. Many people think they can drown in the large pool of students in their property class but no one is safe from the roster that is in the professor’s hand. Everyone is an equal target.
No fear: there is a solution. Do your homework. If you commit yourself to law school it should be a no brainer that you should commit yourself to your studies. If you do the reading, then you will never be embarrassed like Mr. Hart.
Now that I’m in my second year, I can report that the Socratic Method has morphed slightly. After 1L, I have found that professors will give notice to students that they could be called on for the subsequent class. Since you know when your turn is coming, no one should be unprepared to be called upon.
And thus far, that’s been true. I have not seen any person embarrassed by the great Socratic method in my 2L classes…yet.
Patrick Shine is a second-year law student at Suffolk University Law School.