I don’t know when it happened, but law lectures have lost their terrifying charm.  In my experience, students’ unwillingness to speak up—and most teachers’ merciful unwillingness to demand answers—has replaced the Socratic method with more passive classroom learning.

Without that pressure, the need to thoroughly prepare  for the next day’s lecture has faded away.  Safely nuzzled into laptops, my 60+ fellow students can follow along with our lecture using a PowerPoint slide presentation, waiting for each legal issue to be pointed out.

The proud and the few who do prepare may be disappointed to find there is no class discussion they can use to flex their arguments.  Their interpretations are never challenged or questioned.

Law school doesn’t have to be like that.  Laptop learning can be done at home.  The classroom should be for vigorous advocacy and engagement with the material.

The Socratic Method

Do we have to go back to “Paper Chase”-style call and answer in class?  No, I don’t think so, even though it has its merits.  Being put on the spot, thinking on your feet, and applying the law to unpredictable questions are a great foundation for future skills as an advocate.

What’s missing is a greater emphasis on legal problem solving, instead of the more narrowly focused case method.  Is it possible to have it both ways?

I’d like to ask legal teachers to consider taking a new approach.  Here are some elements I’d like to see in my next lecture:

  1. Demand preparedness: ask students who aren’t prepared to leave
  2. Provide—or work with students to develop—materials to learn doctrinal fundamentals at home, so people don’t come to class to type a transcript of your lecture
  3. Focus on practical problems in class.  Start the lecture with an interesting exam-style fact pattern.  Use that as a lead-in to the area of law the students are about to spend four to eight months investigating.  Talk strategy.  Talk about what the case means for future litigants.  Refer back to the case as a concrete example for core concepts.
  4. Draw out quiet participants.  Reward participation.
  5. Make the back row of students sit in the front row.
  6. Ask that laptops be shut, bowed down, or left at home.  If students are dependent on typing what you are saying in class, they didn’t read the material.

Do you have a Professor or instructor who teaches like this?  Let me know in the comments below. I’ve met a few, but it isn’t the norm.

We shouldn’t leave law school without speaking up, advocating for a position, or making eye contact.  For our future clients, let’s try leaving our laptop at home.

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