If there's one universal goal among all students, especially law students who have to deal with "the Socratic Method," it is not to look stupid in class.
When I originally thought of this post, I was going to write it with 1Ls in mind, but then I realized that these lessons are applicable to all law students. It's just that if you are a 2L or 3L, you may have learned some of these lessons the hard way.
Here are three tried and true ways not to look stupid in class:
1. Read the Assignments.
This is pretty simple: Keep up with the reading and don't fall behind. You will get called on; it's not a question of if, but when. And by when, I mean when you least expect it.
The best way to handle being called on in class is having read the cases assigned. You may not have the right answer -- not many students do. But, as long as you can ground your answer in the reading, you won't look like you have no idea what you're talking about.
2. Admit When You Didn't Read.
It happens to the best of us: At some point you may fall behind in your reading. For me, it happened in my second year Con Law class. The previous night I elected to work on my note to meet an editorial deadline, rather than read the assigned cases. And, wouldn't you know it, the next day, Professor Marci Hamilton called on me.
Rather than make things up as I went along, I simply told her I didn't read the case, and she moved on and called on someone else. I wasn't happy with myself because I respect Professor Hamilton's work, but I also didn't want to do her -- and the class -- the disservice of hearing me stumble and waste everyone's time.
Though there's something to be said for being honest, this is a one-time pass. If you use it once with a particular professor, you'd better be prepared the next time you're called on (which is usually the next day).
3. Ask Questions.
If you have a question, ask. In the Socratic Method, the professor is usually the one asking the questions, but if you misunderstand one of the principles the professor is building upon, then everything that follows won't make sense. Before you get too confused, ask a clarifying question. Don't worry about what others think -- there are no stupid questions.
If you ask any law student, they will probably have at least one horror story to tell about being called on. Consider it a rite of passage -- just don't make a habit out of it.
Editor's Note, September 1, 2015: This post was first published in August 2014. It has since been updated.
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