The Socratic Method is Your Friend

This blog will not make some people happy. Anyone who subscribes to pop psychology’s latest fad idea of how to raise children will likely find some of my ideas quite unsettling. No matter, they are my opinions honed from ten years of coaching youth soccer and over thirty years of solving social problems while practicing law. The concern by law school Deans about whether or not to do away with the bar examination for new lawyers is, in my opinion, questionable. The generation going through law school has for the most part, grown up with participation trophies and everyone being told they are special no matter how little they contribute to any endeavor. Law schools in an attempt to keep the freshman classes [L-1] packed to the gills have tried to soften the curriculum by sucking up to students who plead the doctrine of political correctness at the first sign of just how difficult law school curriculums can be. The mantra in law school is scrare to death the L-1’s, work the L-2’s to death and then bore L-3’s to death. It is a method tried and true to produce hardened minds. But hard is not what the participation trophy gathers want. To every parent who has asked the coach if we are going to hand out participation trophies I say enough already. Stop!

This is what Deans are doing when they soften the law school curriculum.

To placate the softened masses Deans have either watered down or done away with the Socratic Method arguing it makes students feel inferior; which is exactly the idea behind the Socratic Method.

The Socratic Method is intended to do this: Make you realize just how little you know while sharpening your skills to think on your feet; then forcing you to learn how to quickly adjust the argument and then hopefully gaining traction to win your clients’ cases. That is it folks, it is supposed to be difficult. But no, that’s not good enough for today’s law students. Instead we want everyone to feel good about themselves; to not be offended by the materials being taught just to make sure we can fill the seats with soft bottoms that know little about hard work and getting their butts kicked by tougher lawyers.

Trust me when I say law school is easy compared to what you will go through as a trial lawyer.

Young lawyers; get a grip on reality. You should demand the Socratic Method and anyone who is offended should be told to go to nursing school. Why? Because as a law student you shouldn’t want more lawyers competing for your clients, you want fewer. Let those who do not want to be offended when discussing the facts of sick criminal cases, to go work at a day care center or get a master degree in library science. Listen up you young lawyers; the criminal law is about rape, murder, arson, torture, terrorism, drugs, kidnapping and every other despicable human activity a sick mind can dream up. Personal injury is about quadriplegia, paraplegia, brain damage, amputations, wrongful death along with blood and guts. And no it is not pretty and most of the time not sensible. Will you be offended? You probably will, I can almost bet on it.

Tough lawyers rise and soft ones write wills and trusts. It is lonely at the top for a reason. And that reason has to do with whatever is worth achieving should be hard to get. If it were easy everyone would want it, and would get it. And therefore by definition it would not be worth achieving.

My son is in law school at Creighton and my daughter Katrina graduated a few years ago from Iowa. I wanted the teachers to scare the ba-jeebers out of them. Law school professors needed to use the Socratic Method to mold their minds, to be sharp as razor blades and with a tongue that matched. And yes I wanted my daughter to learn how to deal with meanness. Because when they graduate they need sharp minds, equally sharp tongues and the knowledge of how to handle meanness.

I have to wonder what is going on in running law schools or whether the wrong people are being picked for Deans. Some of what I have heard is that some law students don't study or show up for classes; some even flunk the bar. You mean if you do not show up for class, read the cases and suffer through the Socratic Method that you can flunk the bar exam? Really I didn’t realize this.

Apparently now the bar exam is to blame.

The Deans must have a different business model from when I entered Drake in 1978 and was under the tutelage of Dean Caulkins and my adviser Dan Powers. Now, they allow the freshman to run the law schools. And apparently quality control doesn't matter; and when failure is the outcome, they turn to an argument that the standards are too high. It is like running a factory without a quality control department while telling the workers it is alright to make mistakes while pushing poor quality product out the door with the idea we can then blame the customers for having too high of an expectation. If this were an auto plant factory, would you buy the cars being manufactured with brakes that may or may not work? What if we ran pilot schools this way? Would it be acceptable to have a pilot who can land safely ninety-eight percent of the time? Is it acceptable to have a surgeon who knows ninety percent of the human anatomy?

It is no different in the practice of law. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you they would not hire me if they were guaranteed I work hard about seventy-five percent of the time. If I told them this they would hire another lawyer.

Law school has to be tough. It has to be unsettling and make the law students uncomfortable. It is embarrassing when you get called on and don’t know the answer or give the wrong answer. Yes, you will not be successful one hundred percent of the time. And yes you will probably be embarrassed.  But you will live and with the Socratic Method cream rises to the top and that which isn’t, doesn’t.

Failing the bar examination has nothing to do with the bar exam questions. Saying the bar examination can be eliminated is a disservice to the young lawyers and especially unfair to their clients. This controversy is contrived and has everything to do with filling seats with student loans.

My opinion is not one anyone in the Bar will want to hear because it is too frank and probably embarrassing. But it is my opinion which I believe others share, but won’t dare state publicly.

We should not be as concerned with the derrieres as much as we should be focusing on their minds. Give them a good quality legal education and you will have successful lawyers who can recruit for you. Soften the curriculum and you soften the minds as well as the tongues leaving half-baked lawyers struggling to make a living while babbling on with a losing argument.   

If you are interested in reading more here are a several published articles.

Lowest bar exam results in nearly a decade prompt some states to consider options

Mar 20, 2015, 1:22 pm CDT

Law school applications set to hit 15-year low

Law schools keep getting less attractive to young professionals, with schools receiving 6.7 percent fewer applications this year than they did in 2014, according to numbers released by the Law School Admission Council on Wednesday, March 19. The number of individuals applying has also fallen, by 4.7 percent. If the pace continues as it did last year, the number of people who applied to law school for the Fall 2015 semester will hit its lowest level in 15 years.

Bloomberg Business

Bar exam, the standard to become a lawyer, comes under fire

For decades, law school graduates have endured a stressful rite of passage, spending the first 10 weeks after classes end taking cram courses in the arcane details of the law before sitting down for the grueling, days-long bar exam. Those who do not pass cannot practice law, at least in nearly all the states and the District of Columbia that consider the exam the professional standard. But that standard, so long unquestioned, is facing a new round of scrutiny — not just from the test takers but from law school deans and some state legal establishments. Some states, including Arizona, Iowa and New Hampshire, are exploring or have adopted other options, questioning the wisdom of relying on a single written test as the gateway to legal practice.

The New York Times

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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