Post authored by Stephanie Nikitenko
The most defining experience of sitting in a law school classroom is learning through the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method is a dialogue that serves as a cooperative argument between individuals. Based on asking and answering questions, it also promotes critical thinking and illuminates the underpinnings of concepts learned in the readings. This method of teaching is helpful for a variety of reasons. First, at a rudimentary level, having someone ask you a bunch of questions about the material you read for class ensures you fully understand the legal principles that you were exposed to in your readings. Also, answering hypothetical scenarios (“hypos”) provides provide a framework to apply those principles. Finally, it serves as good training for how you will engage with judges in court as an attorney. Practicing and developing this skill in a safe classroom environment will only help you and your future clients.
But it would be a disservice to you if I didn’t tell you that your first cold call will suck. You’ll be seated in class waiting for the next person to be called: but this time, it’s your name rolling off the professor’s lips and hanging in the air. It will take a moment for it to sink in, and then your mind will jump into overdrive. You may be asked to stand or you may be allowed to sit, but no matter what, you will probably break into a cold sweat, complete with clammy palms and minor trembling. This is normal. Why? Because it happens to everyone. It can be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but this–much like many things in law school–ultimately helps you develop the skill set you will need as a practicing attorney. Learning the law is like learning a new language. The more opportunities you have to practice that new language, the better your vocabulary and sentence structure. The more you practice articulating legal principles in conversation, the easier it will be when writing briefs and arguing on behalf of clients in court.
When you are cold-called, it doesn’t matter how prepared or familiar you are with the material. The more professors feel you understand the material, the more they will push you by asking subsequent questions. This is to your benefit. You will be backed into a corner with questions because your professor wants you to learn how to pry yourself out of the morass. Not only does this teach you to apply your knowledge, but also to think on your feet. Both of these skills are invaluable in law school and practice.
I want to leave you with the most important thing to remember: the only person who will remember your first cold call is you–no one else.
About the Author:
Stephanie Nikitenko is currently a 3L at UIC John Marshall Law School in Chicago. At UIC John Marshall, she’s the President of the Intellectual Property Law Society (IPLS) and primarily concentrates her studies on the subject of Intellectual Property. She recently spent a semester working in the JMLS Trademark Clinic where she assisted clients with the Trademark Registration process with the USPTO. Additionally, under the supervision of an attorney, she currently assists a law firm with both their trademark and patent matters.