The Value of the Socratic Method

Professor Bainbridge asks “How big is too big?” for a law school class.  The professor concludes that two hundred students in a class is acceptable (while minimising the questions of cost, i.e. why law schools should charge eighty thousand dollars a year when two hundred students are in a class).

Now, I only had a few classes that had fifty or more students; none of my sections ever had more than seventy.  (My alma mater doesn’t even have a classroom that holds that many people.)  Many of my classes were with twenty or so other students; some had less than a dozen.  In some of the smaller classes, we knew that we would be grilled on a weekly basis; that’s just how the math works when three or four students are on the spot every day in a class of ten people.  It forced us all to be prepared each and every day in a way that we did not have to be prepared in larger sections. That training is part of the value of law school – and probably the only part that resembles the real world.

Students who are in a classroom of two hundred know that they may never be called on all year, and, if they are, it will be for a few minutes at a time, not for a half-hour of roasting.  This isn’t just a hazing ritual; it’s a means to train students to meet daily deadlines and to be prepared.  One can only imagine the disaster of arriving for court not having read the other side’s briefs, or sitting down with a client and being unaware of the relevant law, the client’s situation, or similar.


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