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The Reason to Love the Socratic Method

Sit in a law school class for very long and you will know there is good reason for One Ls to fear the Socratic method. I will grant that. Even so, if you think that the Socratic method should be abandoned because of its brutality, or that it is autocratic, or its Eurocentric, or whatever. . .you need to reevaluate that opinion. You are plainly wrong. Here is the great beauty of the method: Professors who practice it faithfully spend each class—an entire 50 minute or one and a half hour class—on one concept. Usually two cases, maybe three, all about the same concept.

Think about it: the poor jerk who actually slogged through real classes in college, and who ended up in med school—mom and dad were very proud—well that guy is sitting in advanced organic chemistry about now, and the professor is covering about 60 concepts a class at light speed, and our poor sap is going to be responsible for it all when exams come. You? One concept, maybe two a class.

Do the math. Basically, each law school class period you cover one case, maybe two. At five pages per case in a law school case book, you end up with ten pages a class, three or four classes a day. That’s 40 pages a day.  And each case? When it comes down to it, you are going to take one sentence from each case you read, and put it in your outline to memorize at the end of the year. One sentence per case.

Now, believe me, I know: there is no one group of people more willing to exaggerate the amount of work they face than One L law students. But 40 lousy pages a day?

Take heart One Ls: 40 pages a day is, in a word, nothing.

Before I went to law school, I did a short stint at the University of Chicago, in a graduate program. How much did we read?  A book a week, per class. That’s three books—about 1200 pages—a week. I repeat: 1200 pages a week.

Pause and take that in: there are whole graduate schools full of students as smart as you are who will end up—most of ‘em —teaching half-wits in some community college in backwoods USA making about a third of what you are going to make if you survive the One L year. These headstuffers are reading 1200 pages a week, trying to remember pages and pages of complicated postmodern theory of this or that, evaluate paradigm shifts, consume piles of data in studies and surveys, and blah blah blah. I know from experience: If you want to be ground like a piece of sausage, grad school is the real deal.

And what do you have to get mastery over? 40 lousy pages a day. 200 pages a week, maybe. And really, when you read about 40 cases a week, that actually ends up in 25 or 30 sentences of real stuff you really have to know for exams. Do you hear that? 25 or 30 sentences a week. That is what it boils down to.

If you devote eight hours a day to law school—four hours for class and four real hours for reading and other things you need to do—reading 40 pages in four hours is a snap. You won’t believe this for a while, but if you do what I tell you, in a month or less you will get to the point where reading 10 or even 15 cases a day ought to take you about an hour. That’s right: an hour.

You ever start thinking that is too much for you, or you’re something special for pulling it off, just remember those people in med school end up memorizing about a hundred technically difficult theories, formulas and facts, every day.

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