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Please don't call on me

Image by Thomas J. Dooley available at

The following is an excerpt of Chapter 3 of Law School Mom

Hope Wood © Copyright 2014

This was one of the best t-shirts I have ever seen because all law students know what it means. If you have seen any law school movie (e.g. The Paper Chase) or talked with a law student, you are familiar with the Socratic Method. Schools still use it and it still works. One of the underlying purposes of this method is to make you think like a lawyer.

This means thinking critically and is achieved by a professor continually asking you questions based on your responses. You will hate this. If you are like me, you like to be good at things. If you aren't good at something, you will work at it until it gets easier. Even after my first year, I'm still not there. It takes practice, which includes trying and failing and trying and succeeding. You need to do both or you will not know what not to do.

For some classes, you won't have to worry about getting called on unexpectedly. My first semester, I had a class where the professor asked for volunteers for every case. Second semester, I had a professor who went in alphabetic order for reviewing cases. I still read and briefed for every case (until the last week of class), but did not learn the material like I would have if I didn't know if I was going to be called on.

It is important to be prepared, but you can take preparation too far. A perfectly briefed case is not going to make you a great lawyer or get you the best grade. Understanding the cases and how they fit together to teach different issues of the law is more important. You will never know what kinds of questions you will be asked when you are called on even if you know you will be called on. All you can do is your best and use it as a learning experience.

As difficult as it is, try not to measure your knowledge based on questions the professor asks fellow students. Attempt to answer them in your head, but if you don’t know the answer, don't be hard on yourself. I was completely clueless in Constitutional Law the first few weeks and perhaps all semester. I told a classmate he did a great job answering questions when he was called on. He said the ones he answered were the only ones he could have answered compared to other questions about the same case. Based on his answers, I would have guessed he could have answered anything. So, if you’re struggling with a particular class or subject, you’re likely not the only one!

You will have classmates who buy commercial case briefs and use them in class. These are good to use after you have already read and briefed the case on your own, but do not use them to replace your own work.

Commercial case briefs can be used to (1) further understand the material or (2) when you read an elegantly written opinion that leaves you clueless about the decision.

You will have classmates who have not read the case at all but can “B.S.” their way through it if they get called on.  Lucky them! But it doesn't really work that way for the final. Be flexible with your style of briefing a case. If one way does not work, try a different way. Attempt to keep it to one page of the most important points.


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