Death to Socrates

Or at least the Socratic method. It’s week 5 of the semester and I’m hitting that same point I hit last semester where I just stop caring. Excellence in law school seems to demand an unwavering perfection, an obsessive attention to detail, and a commitment to conformity. Color me jaded.

The truth is, the study of law itself is not inherently boring. But it is taught in a way that discourages creativity and engagement. The Socratic method was, I’m sure, intended to be a tool in which students learned by thinking critically about their studies with guidance from their professor. In practice, it falls far short. We come in 1L year scared to death, knowing nothing, and then we find out we have to stand in front of the entire class and get grilled on a case. You don’t know where or when your name is coming up, but it’s coming. The dread looms over you and finally, when you get called on, you freeze.

At this point, whether you read the case immaterial because sheer nerves have you come off like a bumbling idiot (in your own eyes at least) either way. Your already fragile ego takes a blow that it doesn’t recover from until next semester, at which point you have realized that class performance is pointless because your entire grade is based on the final. By your second year, you have realized that with adequate notetaking and the help of a good outline (commercial or borrowed from an upperclassmen), you can pass all your classes by doing little more than showing up. This is certainly no standard to live up to, but when the classroom routine is “speak when spoken to” and you often don’t know how to word your confusion about the material into a coherent question, it’s reality.

One thing I miss about my undergrad days studying history is that professors only cold called on students as a last resort. Generally, my peers were enthusiastic about speaking. I have never been the class chatterbox–I learn by observation, so I prefer to mull over my own thoughts while considering new perspectives from others. Still, knowing that I was free to speak, or not speak, as I chose made me far more willing to do the reading and I participated a fair amount as well. Moreover, I never came to class feeling ashamed or worried about my ignorance of a particular facet of the material.The problem is, although class participation counts very little, if at all, toward your final grade, it is the only impression of you as an individual that your professors have. Many of the jobs and almost all of the scholarships you apply for require at least one professor as a reference, and of course you want to ask a professor who has a good impression of you!

Added on to that is the fact that I am not in the law school with the goal of becoming a traditional practicing lawyer and some days it’s just hard to shake off the apathy. Law school is just so far divorced from the reality of what lawyers do, and have the potential do. THAT reality is what really excites me and keeps me on this difficult path, because while a Master’s in Public Policy would have been easier and more fun, it would not have prepared me as well for the chameleon career I have ahead of me. And so, I keep on chugging…

5 thoughts on “Death to Socrates

  1. Legal Rabbit says:

    That’s interesting that you already know that you don’t want to be a trad lawyer. What kind of career are you interested in? I’m curious to know what kind of careers are avail with a law degree.

    • Brownbelle says:

      Thanks for the comment/question! I would really love to do policy/legal advocacy work with a nonprofit. Practicing govt/administrative law with a govt agency (eg atty general’s office, office of gen counsel for CDC/IRS/SSA etc, or city atty’s office) is a close second. If I can’t find something like that, I might just teach HS social studies for a few years and volunteer at a legal aid clinic during the summers. Eventually I want to start my own nonprofit–strongly leaning towards a clinic that exclusively does family law for low income clients who are often screened out of traditional legal aid clinics.

  2. Legal Rabbit says:

    Just read your last post and it seems like you could do some of the things in this comment (advocacy work with a nonprofit) more easily with a law degree. I haven’t experienced law school yet so I know better than to spout any suggestions. If you decide to drop law school to pursue something more meaningful to you, then I think you have outlined some solid career goals. The fact that you were able to articulate exactly what you want to do says a lot about who you are, and I think your concerns are very legitimate. Sorry for this long comment (probably doesn’t help you at all); just wanted to say a word of encouragement.

    Best wishes,

    • Brownbelle says:

      Thank you! You make a very valid point, which is why I definitely plan to finish out 2l and think hard and long in the meantime about what I really want to do. If I decide to go into education, I plan to teach for at least 5 years and get my MPA before trying to transition back into nonprofit & legal advocacy work. Obviously the JD will give me more options overall, so I may very well stick with it. But it doesn’t seem like such a trial knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Thank you for the well wishes!

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