The Harvard Crimson, amongst others, has recently sought to once again cast doubt upon the utility of the Socratic method in law school. Among the reasons for this doubt is the fact that the Socratic method seems to decrease female participation in class. While this may be the case, I agreed with Above the Law that the Socratic Method can be intimidating across the board and that focusing on gender seems misguided at best.
Cold-calling and putting students on the spot with difficult follow-up questions is not a wholly ineffective means of legal training. For those who plan to pursue trial or appellate work, thinking on one’s feet in the face of authority can be a valuable skill. If it is a professor’s aim to hone this skill in class, then by all means continue on with the Socratic method. That said, it more often seems as though the Socratic method is a means of punishing those who haven’t done the reading yet, or at the very least forcing people to participate aloud in class. One’s willingness to participate in class doesn’t seem like the greatest predictor of legal success.
Having experienced professors who shunned the Socratic method in favor of lecturing, I can assure you that the latter method is far more valuable if it is a professor’s aim merely to impart information. Rather than trying to glean what’s important through a professor’s line of questioning, a student is given a straightforward presentation. For those learning the strategy and planning necessary for successful transactional work, this method seems far more effective. When trying to stay out of court, rather that working therein, certainty and clarity are of much greater value than the ability to speak in front of a large group.
Do I see wholesale abandonment of the Socratic method in the near future? No, not so much. That said, I can envision certain professors finding their messages better delivered through lecture, rather than cold-calling.
Let’s hope you get plenty of ‘em in your classes.