General Advice: The Socratic Method

The style of teaching utilized by most law school professors and the way law students prepare for class and study for exams is much different from undergraduate education. The teaching method used in law school may be distressing to some students. The current approach (referred to as the Socratic Method) was developed in the 1870's by Dean Langdell of Harvard Law School. The basis of the method is to use actual cases, which students examine to determine the relevant rule of law that was used to resolve the dispute. Then, the scope and breadth of the rule is tested by reading other cases, or by the use of hypothetical cases put to the students by the professor and analyzed in the course of a “Socratic” dialogue conducted between teacher and student.

The Socratic method encourages competition to answer the professor’s questions and to criticize the remarks of other students. Usually the professor makes few evaluative comments about any student’s performance in class. The risk of embarrassment from being asked to respond in front of other students, and not knowing the answers and/or being criticized by the professor or other students is disconcerting to many students. Remember, however, you are not alone. Each and every one of your classmates will get the opportunity to fumble his or her response to the professor’s questions.