Socratic Questioning, Origins, Goals, and Method.

Socratic questioning and teaching is a style of teaching or lecturing (mostly used by first year professors) that focuses on the professor asking questions, and not providing answers to the students. A professor who employs the Socratic Method in its’ purest form will never provide a student with a straight answer to any question.

The subject of law school classes will generally concern discussing cases that were assigned from the previous class. Your law school books will generally be in the following format:

1) Introduction to the concept theory of a particular subject Niche.

2) Case law. (This is the written ruling produced by the ruling Judge (or judges) who heard the case. Also known as a “written opinion”.)

3) Notes following the written opinion. (This is where the author of the book will change the facts of the case to highlight exceptions or other points that a law student should be concerned with. Pay attention to this part of your book, because this is where most law school professors will obtain their exam questions.)

4) Questions, thoughts, or summary of points.

Your assignments in law school and the focus of your classroom discussions will be the cases that were assigned. The professor will start out with a general question (usually which court hears the case and why). Pay attention to which court (jurisdiction and level i.e. trial court, appeals court, supreme court, state court, federal court) the case is heard by. This will be evident from the caption which is basically the title + citation of the case.

Then the professor will continue the Socratic seminar most likely following the IRAC method.

Issue - What is the issue of law that is the subject of the case?

Rule - What is the Rule the court applies in its reasoning?

Analysis - How does the court apply the rule to the issue? What are the exceptions?

Conclusion - What is the court’s final conclusion? How will future cases be ruled based on this court’s holding?

So then the professor’s Socratic questioning will become more and more focused until the professor will start to modify the facts of the case.

The idea is to teach students by asking questions and encouraging discussion amongst the students as to their own personal answers and thoughts. The Professor then chooses a course of Socratic questioning which is aimed at leading the students to the correct answer, but the correct answer is never actually stated by the professor through the Socratic method of teaching. The theory was that the students would come to the correct answer on their own via discourse and observing the direction the Socratic questioning was directed by the professor.

It is important to note that answering the professor’s questions correctly is not the point… the objective concerns ANALYSIS. The goal of the Socratic Method is to teach law students the ability to handle questions, verbally state a position, and analyze a case based on different factual schemes.

In Summary, remember the Traditional Form of Socratic questioning:

-The professor will not give the students the answer to the questions.

-Law school class discussions focus on case law.

-Pay attention to the notes in your book after the cases.

-Professor will generally follow IRAC questioning and then change the facts to highlight exceptions.

-Traditional Socratic method relied on the class coming to the right answer through discussion.

-Stating the correct answer is insignificant; analysis is key.





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