June 28, 2007
Professional Reading: Socrates and Langdell in Legal Writing: Is the Socratic Method a Proper Tool for Legal Writing Courses?
Washburn Law Prof Jeffrey Jackson has deposited in SSRN a thought-provoking paper promoting the use of the Socratic Method in 1L legal writing programs, Socrates and Langdell in Legal Writing: Is the Socratic Method a Proper Tool for Legal Writing Courses? 43 Cal. W. L. Rev. 267 (Spring 2007). Here's the abstract:
While the Socratic method has historically been the predominant tool for legal education in many first year classes, its use in legal writing classes has been less widespread. Instead, legal writing classes have been at the forefront of teaching innovation in law, and this innovation has trickled down into other first year classes. However, in the rush to use innovative teaching methods, the value of the Socratic method as a teaching tool should not be ignored. The Socratic method, if used correctly, has the potential to be a valuable tool in the teaching of legal writing.
This article explores the fitness of the Socratic method as a tool for the teaching of legal writing classes in the first-year law school curriculum. It considers the advantages of the Socratic method as a tool for active learning, teaching cognitive skills in legal analysis, and encouraging the development oral skills. The article also explores the common criticisms of the Socratic method: the argument that it is humiliating and terrorizing for students; that it is hierarchical and unfair to women students; that it hides the ball and wastes class time; and that it encourages laziness and confusion in both students and professors. The article concludes that, while many of these criticisms have merit, the nature of legal writing classes has the potential to ameliorate the ill-effects of the Socratic method, and to enhance the methods advantages as a teaching tool.
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