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Violence in Law School, a.k.a. the Socratic Method

Law school classes are typically built on the Socratic method. By now you probably know what that means: Everyday you go to class, and the professor calls out a name—presumably randomly—and that person is on the spot for the entire class. There is no way out. The professor then starts grilling that student about one concept—the key concept—in one lousy case that was in the assigned reading for the day. What proceeds is a brutal Q and A session on that case with the lucky student of the day, who, no matter how well prepared she is, will end up looking like a total moron.

At the end of this ritual sacrifice the bloody student stumbles out of the room with everyone else, who are grateful that today, at least, their number didn’t come up. That is the Socratic method in a nutshell.

Now, the ordinary law student hates the Socratic method. And the hate runs very deep. It comes from a couple places. First, the Socratic method is a source of enormous fear.  Unless the professor is a total softy (not likely) the professor can and usually does take the student of the day and forcibly shove them through an intellectual woodchipper, head first, in front of dozens of people. It is horribly humiliating, and there is very little you can do about it. It does not matter how prepared you are, or how smart you are, or if your father is on the U.S. Supreme Court. You are going to get pummeled with body blows for an hour.

On Monday I will tell a story of my first One L experience seeing someone brutalized by the Socratic Method. It was not pretty.

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