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Fake or Pass: Failing the Law School Socratic Method


It’s been another one of those big weeks. In the span of only four days, Jim and Pam got married, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Miley Cyrus quit Twitter. I’m so overwhelmed that I’ve been fighting the urge to cry in frustration since Thursday. Plus, I can’t stop listening to Chris Brown’s “Forever” on repeat. It’s all very preoccupying, and I’m sure I’m not the only one reeling from the effects of these momentous events. Unfortunately, these distractions are bound to have a negative effect on the performance of a law student. After all, it’s tough to get all that reading done when there are so many other pressing subjects to google. So, one might wonder, what happens when you haven’t done your work? Cue suspense music please… it’s time for the Socratic Method Fail.

There are two things that can lead to a Socratic Method Failure. Usually it’s because the student was mostly prepared, but just became confused or unsure of particular points. Since I haven’t been here long enough to become entirely jaded and cruel, I have a lot of sympathy for students in those situations. Getting called on is always a little stressful, and once you mess up even a little it’s hard to avoid plunging into a downward spiral of suckitude. For the others in the class, watching the train wreck is always painful and only the most obnoxious of students can actually find any real joy or humor in the show.

The other times, however, it’s because the student hasn’t done the reading and has no idea what’s going on. In that case, it’s fair game to pounce. Consider it a reward for those of us who managed to navigate away from YouTube and Franzia long enough to get our work done. (Of course, I recognize that serious situations do come up, but I hope that law students are adult enough to contact the professor if there’s a legitimate reason they couldn’t do their work, thus avoiding the in-class fail.) Now if you are unprepared and you do get called on you have two options: try to fake it or pass. I’m going to discuss the pass first, because it’s more badass.

The pass is exactly what it sounds like. A professor calls on you and asks a question, and you just own up. Sometimes it comes in the form of a question, such as “Ummmmm is it ok if I take a pass?” This method lets the class know you are not only lazy, but have no spine. Nice work. On the other hand, if you have some real cojones, you might opt for a strong and resonating “Pass” with no explanation or room for argument. If you have a Samurai sword in your rollie bag, this is a good time to take it out and place it on top of your casebook. If nothing else, you should work in a good bicep flex or two.

Now, the pass has some serious drawbacks. If you ask to pass, there is no pretending you are anything but unprepared, and professors don’t look kindly on students who haven’t done their work. Word on the street is that 1L grades are kinda important, so you probably want to stay on the teacher’s good side. On the upside, you may score some grudging classmate respect for just owning up to it. At the very least you’ll have my gratitude that we didn’t all have to sit through the other option: the faker.

The faker’s response is characterized by excessive pauses, repeating the question, and broad non-answers. The professor asks a question, and it goes something like this:

Really long pause. Faker, “Hmmmm, can you repeat the question?” Professor repeats the question.

Another really long pause while student rifles through pages. “Hmmmm, so, the question is x, y and z, correct?” Professor affirms.

Faker takes out notebook from backpack and rifles through some more pages. Long pause. Class begins rolling eyes and exchanging excited looks. “Hmmm, well it could really go either way, depending on the circumstances. It’s a very broad issue.” Light giggling heard from back corner of room.

Professor suggests a circumstance. Long pause. Faker takes out casebook from another class, turns to random page. Takes out last week’s issue of US Weekly, appears to be comparing the two. Student seated immediately behind the faker removes Samurai sword from bag, makes menacing motions. Faker continues. “Hmmm, well I mean, it’s really hard to say.”

Professor notices imminent death faced by the faker. Appears to consider whether or not the ensuing clean up is worth it. Decides not, shakes his head, and interrupts the faker’s next “Hmmmmmmmm” by asking if anyone else knows the answer. 94 hands shoot up and wave in the air. Remaining six people in the class are distracted because they were updating Facebook statuses, due to incorrect belief that anyone gives a damn about their life.

So the faker is left to hang his head in shame, while the rest of us exchange astonished looks and discrete eyebrow raises. Our feelings oscillate between pity, relief and disbelief, but soon enough class ends. We pack our books, magazines and ancient Japanese weapons away carefully, all but one glad that today was not our day to meet the Socratic Method Failure.