Every few years, we have to have a robust public debate over cold calling law students. Some professors swear by it, citing… dubious justifications. Other folks revile the practice as an archaic throwback of little educational benefit — indeed, there is good evidence that it’s detrimental — that law schools continue to employ out of blind devotion to tradition.
This year’s edition of the debate kicked off with this message from Chicago Law’s Adam Mortara, the guy who spends his free time unraveling social progress to make university admissions safe for white people again.
So, obviously, he has deep thoughts on how education should work.
“Judges don’t let you put up the red light when you don’t want to answer” because but they also don’t grab lawyers at random and ask them to start arguing a motion. If you’re in front of a judge, you did, in fact, “put on the green light” and prepare for the grilling.
Law students are a high-achieving bunch. They managed to get into that lecture hall based on 20 years of schooling that does NOT treat every class as an exercise in anxiety and ridicule so relying on students volunteering to speak seems to work for them so far.
Personally, I like the Socratic Method as a format but flatly reject the idea of cold calling. Assign students in advance to be on call for a specified set of materials. It hews much closer to the real world practice of lawyering where you’re going to know you’re going to get called on, drilled down on your cases, and anticipated follow ups. Everyone gets a turn in the classroom spotlight, but everyone has an opportunity to display their best effort.
And this all still assumes law students are all gunning to be litigators, which we know statistically isn’t the case. In my experience, tax lawyers huddle in their offices and churn out brilliance with as little human interaction possible. As far as I can tell, they live in those offices and the firm leaves them a bucket of fish heads outside the door for sustenance. What’s the point of making them perform an impromptu song and dance on larceny?
At least Mortara practices. His practice is affirmatively deplorable, but it’s practice. Though many champions of cold calling are career academics repeating the practice either out of tradition or to experience a giddy thrill proving how much smarter they are after decades spent studying these materials than a bunch of 1Ls.
I guess that’s a better high to pursue than using them as a dating pool.
Can we please put an end to dogged adherence to tradition?
Anyway, watching himself get positively lit up on social media, Mortara tried to dig himself out by appealing to the highest authority on law school practice:
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.