Cold Calling and the Socratic Method in Law School

One of the things that I was most nervous about before entering law school was being cold called in class. I had heard horror stories of students crying or embarrassing themselves in front of their classmates and I was terrified that something like that would happen to me. As I have said before - public speaking terrifies me (well, it used to at least). Let me ease your nerves- the Socratic method (cold calling) is really not that bad. 

One of the reasons you always have to come to class prepared and actually do the reading in law school is because of the chance that you might be called on. In college, I was never called on without raising my hand. I could go the entire year without speaking up in class and still get an A. That is why I was especially nervous to be called on in law school. With that being said, all teachers call on students a little differently. 

What You Will Be Asked
Typically, you will be asked details about specific cases and concepts. Many times professors with say "tell me the facts of the case" or "brief the case for the class." Other times they may ask you about practice problems in the book or how certain concepts apply to different scenarios. 

If you did the reading and read carefully, most of the time the questions are straightforward. Other times, you may be required to think on your feet but professors are often eager to help you find the answers. 

Here are some examples of things that I was asked:
"Tell us about this case."
"Do you agree with the decision of the case?"
"How is this case different than other cases that we have read?"
"Is this something that most jurisdictions follow?"
"Describe the main elements of this test."
"How/When is this test applied?"
"What was the plaintiff/defendant arguing in this case?"
"What was the outcome of this case and the courts analysis"

My Experience Every professor in your core classes will call on students every class. I had a professor my 1L year that would go down an alphabetical list of students and ask each student one question. This was by far the easiest of them all. Not only could you prepare for when you were being called on, but you had to answer one question and then you were off the hook. 

Another professor would go down the rows of a seating chart - again, it was easy to tell when you were going to get called on. Despite this, he would call on students for the entire class period (which included multiple cases and concepts). Even if you were struggling to answer the questions, you still had to continue to answer the questions for the remainder of class. It seems a little harsh, but after awhile you become more comfortable and it's really not that bad. 

I also had professors that would randomly call on students so you would never really know when you were going to go. For me, this was the scariest part because I would always get called on when I was least expecting it, or not entirely prepared (somehow the professors knew). 

Each semester I got called on about 3 times per class (sometimes more, sometimes less). Of course, your classes may be a little different. Just remember that everyone is stressing it just as much as you are and even if you don't do well, everyone forgets about it the next day. Also, because your final is worth all or most of your grade, you likely will not be graded on how well your cold call goes.

Just take a deep breath and I promise you will get through it. On a positive note, it really helped me with my public speaking skills and thinking on my feet. I can now say I am more comfortable than ever with being called on in class.