Friday, September 14, 2007

The Spotlight Is Hot

Something I’ve noticed:

The Socratic Method can prove difficult for students. Being called on by a stern-looking law professor can be nerve-racking enough. Being called on by said professor in a class of 120 students can shake ones racked nerves even more. Attempting to answer said professor’s question in a class of 120 students when you have no idea what the case presented is about has to bestow a catastrophic strain on ones nerves (to avoid this, all one has to do is read. Surprisingly, some folks haven’t learned this lesson; I inevitably end up restraining myself from swiftly applying a karate chop to the necks of these individuals during conversations when they include phrases like “law school is hard”).

While the difficulties arising from a lack of understanding of the case presented are obvious when an individual has not read, I find it important to note that the Socratic Method can be tricky to navigate even when you have done the reading. Any law professor worth his paycheck has the ability to not only understand the law, but also help his/her students understand it as well (obvious statement, but it gets better; I promise). In using the Socratic Method to help students grasp the necessary rules, the professor will ask a student to provide the relevant facts, the issue of the case, the rule of law, how the law applies to the case, and the conclusion of the court, or better known as the IRAC process (no Saddam or oil jokes, please).

Once this is out of the way, the professor will pepper the student with a bunch of questions that amount to a changing of the facts, which allows the student to present his/her understanding of the law. There will almost always come a time in this process when the student cannot answer the question, usually because of some combination of mental fatigue, sudden awareness that he/she is the only person in the entire lecture hall talking for long stretches of discussion, and lack of knowledge of the law. We law students have to understand that reaching this point is ok and in fact good. It relays to the professor that not only have you read the case, but you understand the relevant rules enough to run the gauntlet of questions put forth.

What many fail to notice until they are under the spotlight is that it is hard to answer those questions on the spot in any type of articulate manner. (Warning, a rant is upon you) So yes, I may sound infantile when I respond; that simply means I am new to this game and am trying desperately to play while learning the rules at the same time. For some reason, this signals to the rest of the class, those having had a moment to think about this question (now the 4th one applied to me by the professor like a body blow connecting surgically) without the spotlight falling on them, that they can now flaunt their intellectual abilities.

That’s some bullshit! This is my question!! I analyzed this case from IRAC. I stumbled through legal jargon (as well as a healthy dose of misused legal jargon) and came to sound analytical conclusions. I wanted to see this one through to the end. And in the midst of all of this thought, about twenty-five hands raised. Who the hell are these people to steal the answer to this question, a question I laid the foundation for?

Truth be told, I had no clue what the answer was, and there would have been a long and uncomfortable silence if the professor hadn’t moved on to someone else. I just hope the professor recognized all the work I put in for that class discussion.

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