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The Case for Diversity in Teaching Styles:
I wanted to follow up Ilya's post on the Socratic Method with a slightly different thought: From the standpoint of a law student, isn't the ideal to experience a wide range of different teaching styles?

  When I was a student, I had terrific experiences with Socratic teaching; my most Socratic professors really taught me to think like a lawyer. On the other hand, I learned a lot from professors who lectured, too. Lecturing profs shed light on the nature of the legal system in ways that Socratic dialogue didn't capture very well. I also learned from other styles, whether mixing and matching or other approaches. In my experience, different styles worked for different courses and different professors, and a range of styles led to the most engaging and educational experience. (The only approach that didn't work for me was "group problem solving," as the main problem the group tried to solve usually was where to go out next weekend).

  If I'm right, we shouldn't be asking whether the Socratic Method is good or bad in the abstract. The better question is what teaching style works best for a particular professor and course in light of the other teaching styles students will experience over the course of law school.
loki13 (mail):
As evidenced by my comments in Ilya's thread (infra??? how do you bluebook blog comments... heh) I would agree with this statement, except:

I think that there is, if anything, a countervailing modern tendency for Professors to protect the unique and beautiful snowflakes that are modern law school students. While balance is nice, I think there is something near-perverse that my school doesn't have a *single* 1L Professor that teaches using the Socratic method, and that all are quite happy with that. If they were all amazing lecturers (such as my torts prof.), that would be acceptable. But many were not. One (whose name and class shall remain undisclosed) was clearly using the same lecture that they had first prepared in the 70s.

A balance is good. But at some schools, SM is a dying breed. That's a shame.
8.21.2008 10:02pm
Hoosier:
What is the "take" on lecturing in the law school community?

In the lib arts, there's a strong tendency to denigrate lectures. This is fine for philosophy profs, I suppose. But we historians really DO need to work under the presumption that teaching isn't just about "letting something out of the students." We first have to put something in that is not there.

Law school thoughts?
8.21.2008 10:05pm
Modestme (mail):
I had two "Professor Kingsfields" in my first year and absolutely loved both. Looking back, these two guys (old white guys, go figure), helped start me on the path to becoming an attorney. This is something i am still working on 10 years later....

We all need at least one Professor Kingsfield, preferably in the cerebral subjects of contracts and torts.

Civ Pro, Evidence, Conlaw, etc, as well as basket weaving classes like employment law or "womyn and the law," can be taught lecture style.
8.21.2008 10:10pm
Perseus (mail):
In the lib arts, there's a strong tendency to denigrate lectures.

In theory (where people like to prattle on about "active learning"), but not so much in practice.
8.21.2008 10:31pm
Carver:
Is the point of law school to teach us how to "think like a lawyer" or to teach us the law? If it's the latter (which I believe it is), then no, we don't need to be given a wide range of teaching styles, we need to be given the best teaching styles that will help us learn the law. Socratic method doesn't do that.

Law school, by it's nature, already brings in people who know how to "think like lawyers". That's what the LSAT is for - to test your critical thinking and analytical ability. It's the law that students need education on. And that's even without mentioning that exams usually tend to ask more about the black-and-white knowledge of the law, rather than give you any sort of question that would test abilities honed by the SM.
8.21.2008 11:11pm
Snarky:
Amazingly enough, I am going to have to agree with Somin on this one.

I think that the Socratic method is really great for very lazy professors. Its a really good way to eat up class time without having to prepare as much.

I think it is less good for students.

Perhaps in theory, the Socratic method could be effective and well done. But in practice, what it usually amounts to is either (1) way too much opinion from students who don't really know anything yet or (2) the professor gets to play "hide the ball."

As a pragmatist, I would say that the Socratic method should be avoided. Very few professors have the skill to pull it off well. Though, of course, one can understand the appeal, given how lazy law professors tend to be when it comes to teaching.

(I can think of few things more lazy than having the whole class grade based on one test, just to minimize grading. This is done even though it is quite clear that students would greatly benefit from more feedback. On a related note, Erwin Chemerinsky deserves praise for his vow to provide law students more feedback at the new law school at UC Irvine.)
8.21.2008 11:22pm
loki13 (mail):
Carver,

With all due respect, you're wrong. Someone can know all the law in the world and not make a good lawyer. As I realized when I had an excellent SM professor, if you have the law, you argue the law. If you have the facts, you argue the facts. And if you have neither the facts nor the law, your argue the policy. Learning to craft the correct argument, as a litigator, when the law is unclear, or, worse, is against you, is something you don't learn from a textbook. It requires more than just your base-level critical analysis skills you use for the LSAT. Theoretically, you should develop them.

Put another way, very little of 'the law' you learn in school is used in practice (I exaggerate- obviously you need the basic building blocks, but you can pick up most areas on the fly; I picked up trademark in a few days for a case despite never taking a class); the skills I learned from some of my professors about the law (opposed to learning the law) are the difference between being the local traffic ticket attorney and being paid large sums for your expertise (or going the academic route, if that's your cup of tea).

YMMV.
8.21.2008 11:23pm
Snarky:
Loki,

With all due respect, that is a ridiculous argument.

A typical law school class is way too large to get much practice with the Socratic method anyway. How often do you really get called over the course of a semester or quarter if you are in a large class?

What the Socratic method usually amounts to for non-participants (i.e. everyone except for the victim student and the predator professor) is listening to a student who often doesn't know what he or she is talking about and wondering when the game of "hide the ball" will end, if ever.

I can see the case for the Socratic method only in relatively small classes. Then, like in trial advocacy classes, one could get a lot of practice thinking on their feet.

However, the Socratic method is often used in large classroom environments. In other words, in non-practice environments where it has little benefit.

Think of it this way. If you were grilled everyday via the Socratic method, you would probably learn something about thinking quickly on your feet. (Not that I think that whether your lawyer thinks quickly on his or her feet normatively should necessarily determine the outcome of your real legal case, but that is a different story altogether. We take the law and the legal system as we find it.) In contrast. If you are grilled once or twice or three times a semester, you probably are not going to get much practice.

It is as if you thought you could gain big muscles by hitting the gym once a month. Its not going to happen.

This learning to "think like a lawyer" argument from experiencing the Socratic method a couple of times per class per Semester is rather bogus. At the end of the day, there isn't really anything much different from "legal thinking" and real thinking anyway.
8.21.2008 11:35pm
Snarky:

Learning to craft the correct argument, as a litigator, when the law is unclear, or, worse, is against you, is something you don't learn from a textbook. It requires more than just your base-level critical analysis skills you use for the LSAT.


By the way, it should also be mentioned that the critical thinking skills that ones learns taking the LSAT are about as advanced as anything you will encounter in law school. There really isn't anything special or hard about making an argument when the law is unclear. Its not exactly rocket science. If you can think and argue logically and persuasively, there isn't much more to it than that.

Furthermore, the Socratic method itself does not teach you to think or argue logically and persuasively, at least not in a very efficient manner. (Yeah, I have seen a lot of ignorant arguments by a lot of ignorant students. I am now able to argue logically and persuasively. Not.)

What the Socratic method does, if it does anything at all, is challenge you to think quickly on your feet. Which is no doubt an important skill, especially for trial practice. However, a large lecture hall is not place for such a skill to be taught.
8.21.2008 11:40pm
Roy S:
I think I agree. I am a private-practice attorney who works in a specialized regulatory field. Earlier this summer, I taught an intensive two-week law school class on the subject. The students had no prior experience with the field. In our classes (2.5 hours, M-F, for two weeks) I wound up dividing the time as follows: about 15-20 minutes of summarizing the previous class's discussion (offering key take-aways), followed by a period as long as the students wanted that was, in essence, reverse-Socratic (floor was open for them to ask me anything about anything we had discussed previously or anything they had read for that day), followed by a break and then a lecture on the new topic mixed with questions I asked them about the readings. For this topic (which is really too broad to be taught over such a short period), this worked -- many of them learned the material very well, and I know from their feedback that they found this style very helpful compared to the usual fare. But it might well not have worked in a different kind of class.

I'm now considering teaching a different kind of class, focused on case studies in the field (the way classes are often taught in business or public-policy schools). I'd be curious whether folks have any input on teaching interdisciplinary law-school classes in this manner.

More broadly, I'd be interested in whether anyone has any good sources on teaching Socratic or discussion-oriented classes. In thinking about the case-study class, I came across reference to "Education for Judgment," which seems useful. Other recommendations?
8.21.2008 11:41pm
loki13 (mail):
Snarky,

Are you in / have you been in law school? Yes, even in large classes (although I would cap the class at 50) the method works. Why?

1. All students prepare harder.

2. Done well, the professor usually has a point he is trying to teach with the method. If you look at the previous post, I gave a (brief) example from one of my classes. Therefore, the other students (who want to do well) should be listening because they want to learn the point as well.

The SM is like any other teaching method- done poorly, it sucks. I had lectures were the Professor put the case up on powerpoint and we read it with him. Good, huh? Orin's original point is valid- a good teacher is good regardless of the method they use. I just happen to think that it's a shame that SM is an endangered species at far too many schools. In my mind, SM isn't what the lazy profs use- powerpoint and lecture is what they use.
8.21.2008 11:41pm
Displaced Midwesterner:

What is the "take" on lecturing in the law school community?

I couldn't speak for what the professors think, but as a recent grad I would say that the student view of lectures is neutral to negative. On the one hand, they allow more time to relax and not worry too much about class. But on the other hand, every law student has gone through at least 4 years of lecture-dominated undergrad, law school subjects don't necessarily lend themselves well to scintillating lectures (sure, criminal law or the laws of war can be pretty interesting, but it would take a truly gifted raconteur to make a semster's worth of lectures on commercial paper engaging), and most importantly, most law sutdents are very keen on hearing the sound of their own voices. Student preference, I would say, probably leans toward mixed lecture with on-call days/volunteering.

As for what is actually best? My opinion falls with Orin on this one. I think a mix probably is best. Some Socratic is very helpful for keeping your brain in gear and really getting you to understand (and actually some of the most sought after classes I remember were by some of the most Socratic profs, although they were very good at being Socratic, it wasn't just the Socratic aspect itself). But too much Socratic is just overkill and probably does not add much, especially in some subjects. Discussion is still important to learning the really valuable skills and insights, but Kingsfield-style cold calling can often just be a massive waste of time.
8.21.2008 11:42pm
Roy S:
(To be clear -- agree with Orin.)
8.21.2008 11:42pm
Snarky:
Loki,

To answer your rather silly question, I have been to an extremely prestigious law school. In your experience, do people who have not been to law school usually have that strong of an opinion about the Socratic method? Do people who have not experienced a particular method of teaching first hand usually have detailed opinions about that method?

Probabilistically, the answer is clearly no.

Maybe if the Socratic method had taught you basic thinking skills in lawschool, you could have drawn this commonsense inference. Perhaps you would have learned more about thinking in grad school.


2. Done well, the professor usually has a point he is trying to teach with the method. If you look at the previous post, I gave a (brief) example from one of my classes. Therefore, the other students (who want to do well) should be listening because they want to learn the point as well.


Usually, the point that the professor is trying to made could be directly stated in a minute or two, as opposed to 10 or 15 minutes as we all get to play "hide the ball" together.

My point is not that professors do not have a points they want to cover. My point is that this is an extremely inefficient and stupid way to convey information. Even if done well, it is extremely inefficient.


Orin's original point is valid- a good teacher is good regardless of the method they use.


This is false. Lecturing well is much easier than doing the Socratic method well.
8.21.2008 11:50pm
zippypinhead:
Carver wrote:
Is the point of law school to teach us how to "think like a lawyer" or to teach us the law? If it's the latter (which I believe it is), then...Socratic method doesn't do that.
I couldn't disagree more. Another of my favorite professors, Yale Kamisar, used to trudge into class with armloads of serially-highlighted casebooks, treatises and reporters. A student asked him why he always referred to the books even when teaching legal principles that he helped create. His pithy reply: "any lawyer who relies on memory is committing per se malpractice."

I don't know about your law school, but at Michigan in the mid-1980s, virtually all the exams were open-book. Knowledge of "the law" wasn't what was being tested. You weren't expected to know the law, but were being evaluated on whether you had learned how to find the law and apply its principles to the exam issues you spotted. Or to put it differently, to "think like a lawyer."

Just want to learn the law? Save your time and money - take a bar review course and sit for the California bar (where you don't need a degree from an accredited school). If you happen to get lucky and pass the bar, you'll be exactly the kind of alleged lawyer I most like to see at opposing counsel table -- somebody who thinks knowledge of a finite set of static, rote rules win the day.

Frankly, if well-done there's nothing like the Socratic method to teach a student how to "think like a lawyer."
8.21.2008 11:50pm
Avatar (mail):
The Socratic method works well if you're dealing with one of two kinds of situations...

- If the professor has an excellently-crafted argument that's specifically designed to elicit certain responses from the student, then to show the student why their logic is incorrect. This works only if your student is within a fairly narrow intellectual range. If he's too dumb to see where you're leading him, then you're just bullying a moron. But if he's too smart to make the mistake that you're trying to push him into, you don't get to make your point and seem clever by comparison.

- If the professor is talking with a brilliant student who's up on their material, it can be interesting and informative.

As near as I can tell, the main use of this method of instruction is to keep the rest of the class interested - not because they're absorbed in the material or the logic of the argument, but because they want to see the poor schlub screw up.

Is that worse than a traditional lecture? Tough to say; it's hard to tell when your lecture is being ignored, assuming you can't see the reflection of Solitaire games in people's eyeglasses. ;p But when a Socratic dialog fails, none of the viewers are getting an education.
8.21.2008 11:52pm
loki13 (mail):
Snarky,


(Yeah, I have seen a lot of ignorant arguments by a lot of ignorant students. I am now able to argue logically and persuasively. Not.)


I suggest you either go to class with more intelligent students or re-evaluate your self-opinion.

Seriously, though, if you look at my original post here and my posts on Ilya's topics, you will see that I agree with Orin, except that in *my* experience, at *my* old school, there wasn't enough SM, which was a shame, because the best class/Professor I had utilized it. Some subjects don't lend themselves to SM, and I wouldn't want it for all of my classes. But the idea that Professors are doing students a favor is often just wrong; we can learn "the law" from BarBri and treatises.
8.21.2008 11:52pm
loki13 (mail):
correction- doing students a favor *by lecturing*
8.21.2008 11:53pm
Arkady:
Famous lawyers who didn't go to a law school...


Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), defense attorney in the Scopes trial of 1925, attended a law school for one year, but he did not distinguish himself and preferred to study law on his own. He received the greater part of his education in a law office in Youngstown, Ohio.


And then there's this blog: How to Become an Attorney Without Law School - Become a Lawyer with no College Degree

Evidently, there are seven states (California, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming) that allow one to read for the law without having to attend law school. See, The Self-Made Lawyer.
8.21.2008 11:59pm
loki13 (mail):
I apologize Snarky, I didn't mean to disparage your prestigious law school (although why should the prestige matter?). I was genuinely curious as, on the other thread, others had opinions on SM from different fields (an engineer etc.). You take umbrage a little too quickly. I won't address the rest of your points because clearly your misplaced anger had the better of you, other than to clarify the last point- I was agreeing that a good teacher could use a variety of forms; the best professor I had used SM, the second best used a combination lecture/Q&A. Since lectures are easy, the worst professors I had were all lecturers.

As for your point about learning the law, zippypinhead, supra, wrote what I was going to post.
8.22.2008 12:00am
OrinKerr:
Snarky writes:
As a pragmatist, I would say that the Socratic method should be avoided. Very few professors have the skill to pull it off well. Though, of course, one can understand the appeal, given how lazy law professors tend to be when it comes to teaching.
In my experience, the prep time for a Socratic class is much higher for a professor than the prep time for a lecture class. Preparing for a lecture is quite easy: You just list the topics to talk about, and you talk about them. If you don't know much about a particular topic, you just ignore it or skip over it.

In contrast, preparing for a Socratic class is more like preparing for a jury trial. You need true mastery as you build question on question and are prepared for whatever the "witness" says. Now, perhaps you think trial lawyers are all lazy: Lawyers just go into court and ask questions, and the witness does all the work! But I tend to think the opposite, as building an argument in an interactive way is much harder than just stating it.

Of course, you're right that some professors are bad at using the Socratic Method, either because they're not prepared or lack the skill. But when well done, it takes much more prep time than lecturing.
8.22.2008 12:14am
loki13 (mail):
I'm going to second Orin on this-

in a well done SM class, by the end of a line of questioning of a student (or students, in some cases), the point the professor is trying to make made. Doing that, whitout knowing what students are going to say, is a feat of skill that requires both an incredible mastery of that area of the law and an immense amount of preparation. It takes a good gardener to plant a primrose path.
8.22.2008 12:20am
loki13 (mail):
darn typos...

the point . . is trying to make IS made.

and WITHOUT.
8.22.2008 12:21am
zippypinhead:
In contrast, preparing for a Socratic class is more like preparing for a jury trial. You need true mastery as you build question on question and are prepared for whatever the "witness" says.
Bingo! And by being on the receiving end of well-done Socratic method in law school and doing your job as a student to understand and be prepared to discuss the material, one learns to do exactly that.

As a litigator, I can see the parallel exactly. Building a solid cross-examination is incredibly hard work, at least where you (a) have material to work with, and (b) have a real point you want to make for the trier of fact, regardless how little the witness wishes to help you make it. I'm sure that's almost exactly the same for a professor who wishes to use the Socratic method to effectively teach a principle to the class.
8.22.2008 12:23am
Snarky:

In my experience, the prep time for a Socratic class is much higher for a professor than the prep time for a lecture class. Preparing for a lecture is quite easy: You just list the topics to talk about, and you talk about them. If you don't know much about a particular topic, you just ignore it or skip over it.


There is no doubt that, if done well, the preparation time for a Socratic class is greater than for a lecture.

However, in my experience, most professors do not do Socratic classes all that well. And, Socratic method, not done well, is easier to "fake" than a lecture. After all, so much time can be consumed by useless back and forth, that one does not have to prepare all that much, if one is not intent on doing truly excellent teaching. And lets face it, yo the extent that tenure and promotion depend more on scholarship and research than teaching, not everyone is interested in being a truly excellent teacher.

Finally, I have seen the Socratic method done "well" (to the extent that this monstrosity can be said to be good.) Even then, as I said earlier, it is an inefficient method of making whatever points one wants to make.

What about the joys of the back and forth? What about all that wonderful "nuance" that is communicated, as the professor explores the nooks and crannies of the subject with the student in a friendly Socratic dialogue? Will future lawyers not be able to think in a nuanced, (to those who are conceited, uniquely lawyerly way) if not for the Socratic method?

Well, actually, there is a lot that can be learned by that sort of conversation. But, as with so many things in life, one truly learns by doing much more than watching.

The increased inefficiency of communicating points is not worth the cost of the generalized and generic "skills" that one supposedly acquires watching the back and forth between predator and victim (oops, I mean professor and student).

If you want to teach such skills, why not have a clinic? Imagine that! One learns trial advocacy skills by doing, not watching. To the extent that the back and forth with the Socratic method is uniquely valuable, it is uniquely valuable as a skill. (The skill being thinking quickly on your feet.) Why not have a Socratic dialogue clinic? Why must the substance of so many classes be partially wasted by the procedure of such dialogue?

My theory is that law professors (yourself excluded) tend towards laziness when it comes to teaching. (Although not when it comes to research.) I think this has to do with the way incentives are structured at many law schools.

Seriously, law schools should get with the program. They should use real text books, not just case books. They should focus on lectures, not the Socratic method (except for in clinical environments where students get to practice, practice, practice). They should have multiple exams and assign plenty of homework so that students get plenty of practice applying concepts.

I will tell you, the best lectures are far superior to the best classes using the Socratic method.

Why? Because they are insightful, exciting, and convey a lot of knowledge efficiently. Maybe the best Socratic dialogues are insightful and exciting, but they are definitely not efficient at conveying information.

Regardless of ridiculous comments about learning trademark law in 2 week there really is a lot of substantive stuff to learn about the law. Both what it is, how it is made, its history, how it has been interpreted, how it might be interpreted in the future, how it could have been interpreted differently, etc. etc. (Yeah, you might have known enough to handle your client's matter. Probably in a barely competent matter that would approach malpractice if anything really important were at stake. But you really do not know trademark law.)

Finally, let me put something else bluntly. I am usually such a shrinking violet. If it takes you more than a couple of Socratic dialogue classes to learn to "think like a lawyer" your pretty much dumb as a rock.

On the other hand, we can all probably use more practice thinking quickly on our feet. But, one learns that best by doing, not merely by watching.
8.22.2008 1:53am
Snarky:

And by being on the receiving end of well-done Socratic method in law school and doing your job as a student to understand and be prepared to discuss the material, one learns to do exactly that.


Bah I say! You don't learn either good direct examination or good cross examination skills by merely preparing for a Socratic dialogue in Torts class. You learn these things well only by actually practicing direct and cross examination in a good course in trial advocacy, or, less than ideally, in practice. (After plenty of preparation, of course. Preparation + practice = progress).

In contrast, I am sure that Professors do benefit greatly in terms of their questioning skills from their Socratic preparations and most importantly, their execution of that preparation. (When they aren't faking it.)

However, that really isn't the point, is it? The primary beneficiaries of the class lecture time should be the students, not the professor.

In contrast to the benefits reaped by the professor on a regular basis, students who prepare but do not execute (i.e. are not participants in the Socratic dialogue) reap far fewer benefits than they would from a well-done lecture.

In fact, many law professors recognize that the benefit of preparing when not called upon to execute are minimal, and thus set up panels where particular students prepare rather than having all students prepare. This tends to increase the quality of the discussion (thus minimizing the amount of time wasted by this method for non-participants -- although, plenty of time is still wasted nonetheless) and make these classes much higher in quality.

At the end of the day, the Socratic method (except for in a small class where all the students participate in a very regular basis) can never beat a well-done lecture. Because, once again, the Socratic method can never be a truly efficient method of conveying information to a large audience compared to a well-done lecture.

To be nuanced, I will add this. A well-done class utilizing the Socratic method is better than a poorly done class utilizing lectures. However, if you can do a class using the Socratic method well, you probably could do a lecture well in addition.
8.22.2008 2:11am
loki13 (mail):
Snarky,

No one is saying that you shouldn't take clinics or actual trial advocacy courses. Those, pluse your summer jobs/clerkships, help with the application of what you learn. As for the rest:

1. Replace casebooks? No. Treatises are great (McCarthy on trademarks was my starting point for the previously mentioned case). But the law is developed through cases. Judge X doesn't care what McCarthy thinks the law is or should be, Judge X cares what the jurisdiction's law is. To know this, you have to know how to read cases. The art of litigation is often finding disparate cases to support your proposition, or, conversely, distinguishing the opposing party's citations (while the rule is ably stated, it has only before been applied in the criminal context . . . while this is a case of first impression within the 9th Circuit, it is unlikely that the precedents of the 11th in employment law would be followed etc.)

2. Multiple exams? Eh . . . I had classes with midterms, and classes without, and it all comes out in the wash. Good students do well regardless of the format I've found.

3. More homework? Now that's a kicker. If you actually do all the homework, seriously, as assigned, including looking up the referenced note cases, you don't have time for more homework. This isn't even including the time spent on law review (you just don't sleep). YMMV at your law school.

I'll say this again- SM done well, for all but a few subjects, is the preferred law school technique. Not in a bullying way. Not to torment students. My experience changed the way I thought about litigation, corporate law, law &economics, and morality, and made me a better litigator. I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience where you were at.

BTW, as for your dig about learning trademark law; you're right- I didn't know everything. But I knew enough to write and win a motion on the subject we needed because I could *think like a lawyer*. Clients pay for results; and you don't add much value when you're flummoxed every time you hit an area of the law you didn't receive a lecture on.
8.22.2008 2:36am
Snarky:

Treatises are great


A treatise is not a textbook.

I did not say to replace casebooks. But, they need not and should not be the primary means of conveying information. Learning from cases is inefficient.


I'll say this again- SM done well, for all but a few subjects, is the preferred law school technique.


Well, if you do not value efficiency and learning as much as you can in the limited time available, then I guess it is the preferred method.

Since I view time as a scarce resource and have little patience for those who would waste it, I must, respectfully, dissent.
8.22.2008 3:10am
loki13 (mail):
Textbooks would be great, if we didn't live in America, which, last time I checked, was a common law system built on cases. So if I ever find myself studying civil (Napoleonic) law, a text book would be fine. But I'm glad I know how to read cases. 99.9% of the work I do involves reading and applying cases in litigation (and, yes, being charged the usurious rates by Westlaw). Good skill, reading and knowing how to use cases.

I sure wouldn't want to have to tell the judge that while I didn't have a case in the jurisdiction to support me, I was pretty sure the textbook was on my side.

While some of law school is useless, if anything there should be more case reading (and unedited case reading at that). Of course, this is from a litigation perspective . . . I think transactional lawyers are too busy getting their commas in the right place.
8.22.2008 4:02am
loki13 (mail):
BTW after reading the Somin-linked Bainbridge article on transactional lawyers, I am fully prepared to acknowledge that case reading might not be helpful to them. But that is not a world I know about. If you're litigating, you're reading cases (or, if you're super unlucky, doc review).
8.22.2008 4:17am
O rly:

Loki, To answer your rather silly question, I have been to an extremely prestigious law school.

...

If it takes you more than a couple of Socratic dialogue classes to learn to "think like a lawyer" your [sic] pretty much dumb as a rock.

:D
8.22.2008 7:57am
O rly:
Ya rly.

"Give me a break. Really, Volokh, you can preach to the choir, but your [sic] not going to convince anyone who does not share your right-wing agenda."

:DDD
8.22.2008 8:09am
steve:
Anyone can read a case. It's the discussion that makes classes worth attending. Unfortunately from my experience, the lecture style leaves much to be desired.

I may be in the minority here, but I like the Socratic method. But I think it takes more effort on the part of the professor to be good at it. Moreover, much of academia has become somewhat hypersensitive to students feelings and self esteem. So, I presume that professors who attempt the old method leave themselves open to charge that they are creating "hostile" or uncomfortable classroom experiences.

I had a great experience at HLS with Prof. Cope. He had the Socratic, but not overly harsh method that I wish more profs would utilize.
8.22.2008 10:15am
FantasiaWHT:
Snarky, you might be taken a little more seriously if you weren't trying to argue the extreme (SM is never the right choice, lecture is always better) compared to the balanced argument of nearly everybody of everybody else (SM is occasionally the right choice, but lecture can be better as well)

The argument that lecture is always better in all situations, to all groups of students, and by all professors is pretty ludicrous.
8.22.2008 10:20am
Happyshooter:
I couldn't disagree more. Another of my favorite professors, Yale Kamisar, used to trudge into class with armloads of serially-highlighted casebooks, treatises and reporters. A student asked him why he always referred to the books even when teaching legal principles that he helped create. His pithy reply: "any lawyer who relies on memory is committing per se malpractice."

I had a class with Yale in the late 90s, and he was maybe 50% lecture/25% rant/25% soft questioning. He would go after law and order types hard, but if you stood your ground with emperical evidence or soc/crim studies like broken windows he would start eye rolling and the usual Michigan snide comments.

I had done law enforcement work in the military and I praised miranda when I was on the hot seat one class. At the time only the DUI enforcement vans had cameras and mikes, and it is too hard to get a suspects lies and drive at the same time. Thanks to TV you can get avoid talking to them 'by law' until they are in the interview room in front of the one way glass, camera, and mikes, and get their string of weak lies on tape and let them put themselves in the frame over an hour or so of stories.

Yale was not happy about that, less so when I compared written advice forms to the starter flag for a guy talking himself into conviction.

I wish I had seen him in his prime, he was doing a lot from memory by my time and a lot of his rants were annoying and whiney. He did have a fair test based on the outline and I was on student senate so I knew he blind graded fairly.
8.22.2008 10:42am
zippypinhead:
Happyshooter, I heard rumors Kamisar had gone downhill before he took emeritus status. Clearly not the same guy I had about 15 years earlier. But I wouldn't hold out Kamisar as a model of good Socratic questioning even in his prime; he tended to be too impatient and resorted to yelling when the discussion train headed down what he viewed as a wrong track (if I'd been naming Michigan faculty from my era who did SM especially well, I would have started with Ted St. Antoine, J.J. White or Tom Kauper, all of whom had very different styles that worked for them). My point was more limited -- the guy who literally "wrote the book[s]" on criminal law and Constitutional criminal procedure believed memorizing the details of black letter law rules was not only a waste of time, but dangerous.

But I still liked Kamisar -- he put on a great show, and if you weren't intimidated by him, you could learn a lot. And I learned how truly brilliant the guy was when I got to work with him one-on-one when he became my note advisor.
8.22.2008 12:29pm
Golda:
Snarky is obviously being snarky, which hardly makes for reasoned or reasonble analysis.

It was not my experience, when listening to a socratic dialogue to tune out, or day dream, or pine for scenes of humiliation, like apparently Snarky claims. I listened, I formulated my own answers, I asked my own questions, I engaged in the material in new ways, I had not dreamt of the night before -- it was not "inefficient" for me.
8.22.2008 1:25pm
Happyshooter:
(if I'd been naming Michigan faculty from my era who did SM especially well, I would have started with Ted St. Antoine, J.J. White or Tom Kauper, all of whom had very different styles that worked for them).

JJ was still the master of the Socratic Method. While I was waiting for my bar results I went to a seminar where he lectured on some of the worst form pleading elements to rev art 9, and he was just as good at lecture and funny to boot. That was where he told me his first name was Jimmy, not JJ.

St Antoine was only teaching seminars at the school when I was there, but he was informative.

Doug Kahn did a nice soft SM that made people learn, which looking back you would never figure someone could pull off in tax. He also had a hard time seeing more than a few rows back, which made it even more impressive.
8.22.2008 1:58pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
My point is not that professors do not have a points they want to cover. My point is that this is an extremely inefficient and stupid way to convey information. Even if done well, it is extremely inefficient.
...and...
I did not say to replace casebooks. But, they need not and should not be the primary means of conveying information. Learning from cases is inefficient.
I think Snarky is right, given his premise. Neither the casebook nor the SM are the most efficient methods of conveying information. It's just that I disagree with his premise: namely, that law school -- particularly first year -- is about "conveying information."
8.22.2008 10:26pm