General Information For First-Year Students

Your course schedule:

You do not chose any of your courses during your first year of law school.  All students will take the following courses:

The Casebook Method

The casebook method is, for the most part, what you will experience during your first year of law school.  The casebook method involves you reading a bunch of cases and then learning the law.

The Socratic Method

The Socratic method receives a disproportionate amount of attention from pre-law students.  Do not worry about it.  You should place the Socratic method way down on your list of law school priorities.  During orientation the school simulates a mock Socratic method, even though many students will never experience the true Socratic method during classes.  Professors that use the true Socratic method: Alexander (Crim law), Devitt (Evidence), L. Ramsey (various courses), Claus (contracts-not harsh about it, doesn't ask tough questions), McCouch (Trusts).  Sometimes professors will solicit an answer from the class, and if nobody raises their hand, then the professor will resort to the Socratic method (McCouch, Claus, Alexander, and Ramsey typically solicit questions before going Socratic).

The Socratic method involves a professor randomly calling on students during class and having those students answer questions about the assigned reading or some set of hypothetical set of facts.  Most law students dread the Socratic method.  The good news is that the Socratic method has really fallen out of favor at most law schools and especially at the University of San Diego School of Law.  If you have an older professor who has taught for 30-40 years, then he or she may still use the Socratic method.  In all likelihood, you will probably only have 2-3 true Socratic method classes during your 3 years at USD Law.  Many of your professors will not use the Socratic method, or will use a hybrid.  It's not a big deal if you completely botch the answers when called upon.  Although most professors will state in the syllabus that you can have your course grade deducted one level for unpreparedness, this rarely happens (even if you botch the answer or don't do the reading).  (1) When professors grade exams, it's done anonymously.  Professors don't see your name, they only see a number.  In order to reduce your grade, the professor would have to compile all of the grades for the class,  assign letter grades to each number, convert each number and grade combination to the names of each student, and specify a decrease in the grade for a student, and possibly recalibrate the curve for the class.  Professors hate grading, so they don't take the time to do this.  Furthermore, professors would have to keep notes on which students botched the Socratic method during lecture, and they don't do this either.  Even if a professor did make a note that you botched the Socratic method, the professor would have to keep this note for months, until the semester ended and the professor had tabulated grades for each student.  This is highly unlikely.

The Socratic Method, What Should You Know?

If you are taking a class where the professor uses the Socratic method, don't panic.  At a minimum you should know the following things from the assigned reading:

Many times the professor will ask rhetorical questions for which no correct answers exists.  In these circumstances, your reasoning is more important than the answer.  Sometimes, no matter what you say, the professor will usually point out some problems or issues with your answer.  It doesn't matter because law professors like highlighting the gray areas of the law.  Even if you give a great answer or provide great reasoning, prepare to answer a question from the professor that includes the phrase "but what about" and then chaning one or two of the facts.  Then the professor will ask if that changes your answer.  Again, no right answer exists, you just have to give an answer and then justify your answer.  If you read the class materials and understand the reading, there is no reason to worry about the Socratic method.

Socratic hybrids (much more common than Socratic method):

If you botch the Socratic method or didn't read

Don't worry.  If you didn't read the case you can let the professor know, in which case they will call on another student, or you can try to fake it.  If you tell the professor that you didn't read the case, the professor will usually tell you that you're on call for the next class, or he will tell you to "prepare for class."  That's it.  I've never really seen anything adverse occur because a student didn't read for class.  Again, everybody vastly over estimates the role the Socratic method plays during law school.  You won't even care/notice after your first year.