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What Does It Mean to "Think Like a Lawyer"? And How Does The Socratic Method Help?:
In his latest post, Ilya offers the following take on how the Socratic Method can help a person "think like a lawyer," and how much it matters:
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.
  I think Ilya and I have a very different sense of what it means to "think like a lawyer." In my view, thinking like a lawyer has little to do with thinking on your feet, answering questions orally, or advocacy skills. Nor does the Socratic Method teach these skills very well.

  Rather, "thinking like a lawyer" means having a brain that focuses on what is legally relevant and that puts aside what is not. Legal thinking is a practical art that relies on a set of principles and relationships, and a person thinks like a lawyer when they master that practical art.

  The purpose of the Socratic Method is to ask students the legally relevant questions (and in some cases, to show why the legally irrelevant questions are legally irrelevant) in order to train them to ask themselves those questions when they read cases and legal materials on their own. Put another way, the method pushes students to internalize a way of thinking: The repeated raising of a specific type of questions in class trains students to ask themselves those questions out of class.

  In my view, the Socratic Method doesn't require a professor to "hide the ball" or preclude some lecturing about doctrine. It can be done that way, but it doesn't have to be. Rather, I think the root of the method is creating an environment in which students in a large class feel sufficiently engaged in the material (often aided by the possibility of being called on) so that they try to answer the professor's questions for themselves. After a while, they can predict where the professor will go; they can ask the professor's questions without the professor. As Phil Areeda wrote:
The student sees that he could have asked himself those questions before class; that the kinds of questions the instructor asked can be self-posed after class. The internalization of that questioning process is not an illusion. It is the essence of legal reasoning and the prize [of the Socratic Method].
Phillip E. Areeda, The Socratic Method (SM) (Lecture at Puget Sound, 1/31/90), 109 Harv. L. Rev. 911 (1996).
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