Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Socratic Method

The Socratic method is much maligned these days.  I do not personally use it when teaching Tax.   I use a problem method where I lecture on a topic then assign homework problems to the students which we then go over in the next class period.  

But I do use the Socratic method of teaching when I teach my first year students Civil Procedure.  I confess I am not great at it, but I think that, properly used, it really helps students learn how law is both determinate and indeterminate at the same time.   It's not determinate when you are trying to predict the legal outcome (is the deduction allowable or no?  does the court have personal jurisdiction over the defendant or no?).  But it becomes determinate once the legal authority rules!  That was the point of my post the other week about the power of fact-finding.  

Here's a nice opinion piece in the Washington Post about how Socrates would not make it as a teacher in today's high schools.

What would happen, I wondered, if we hired Socrates to teach in a modern high school?

He probably would get in trouble with the counselors for beating up on the students’ self-esteem — never giving them an answer, just pointing out where their arguments failed.

“If Euthyphro never experiences success, how can he ever come to understand piety? You need to ease up there, Soc.”
Socrates did not run a student-centered classroom.

It’s clear that Socrates was capable of dealing with only one type of learner. The learning specialists would be all over him for that.

Bryan Camp, Legal Education, Teaching | Permalink


I agree. First-year teachers should use the Socratic method because it helps law students develop important cognitive skills. The problem is only using the Socratic method. Professors should also use problem-solving exercises, teach metacognitive skills, and employ formative assessment.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Nov 26, 2017 10:09:06 AM

I agree as well. Socratic method is very useful at the beginning of law school education, however for second and third year student's there needs to be more practical learning than Case Studies alone.

Posted by: Alexander Davie | Nov 28, 2017 11:14:57 AM