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The Socratic Method and "Thinking Like a Lawyer":

Many defend the use of the Socratic method in law school classes on the grounds that it teaches students to "think like a lawyer." There is some merit to this point, though I think it is greatly overstated, for reasons Steve Bainbridge discusses here. It is useful for lawyers to be able to think on their feet, answer difficult questions posed in an oral argument, and so on. At the same time, it's important to realize that classroom SM is only vaguely similar to the work of most real-world lawyers. Transactional lawyers rarely confront SM-like situations at all. And even many litigators spend far more time doing research or writing briefs and motions than answering questions at an oral argument. Nonetheless, SM can help hone advocacy skills that many lawyers will find useful.

But the fact that SM conveys some useful skills doesn't mean that it should be employed in all or most classes. Most law schools have specialized courses devoted to trial practice, oral advocacy, brief writing, and other advocacy skills. It's not necessary for those skills to also be taught in classes where the principal objective is to master a particular body of law. To the contrary, it is usually best if the law school curriculum exploits the benefits of specialization.

Professors whose main expertise is in the subject matter of a given body of law can best serve their students by teaching what they know best, without diverting class time to the teaching of advocacy skills in which they are less expert (if they have any expertise at all). Those who specialize in advocacy skills (e.g. - many clinical faculty), by contrast, can teach courses specifically focused on those subjects. Even if a particular professor has great facility with both a given field of substantive law and advocacy skills, it doesn't necessarily follow that he should teach both in the same course. He might serve the students better if he teaches one class solely devoted to the former and another focusing on the latter.

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