30 J. Legal Educ. 529 (1979-1980)
Paper Chase and the Socratic Method of Teaching Law

handle is hein.journals/jled30 and id is 537 raw text is: COMMENTS

The success of the book, movie and TV series Paper Chase has spread a
popular picture-accurate or not-of the lawschool classroom. Most
viewers are probably impressed by the authoritative professor and enjoy
watching him and his students interact. Many practicing lawyers and
other professionals too can recognize that kind of classroom from their
student experiences. It is fun to watch Paper Chase and great fun to
recount similar stories from our student days. But quite apart from this
aspect, we can look at the story and raise a few useful questions about
teaching and law.
The media picture provides us with a convenient case for analysis, the
case of Charles W. Kingsfield, Professor of Law. At issue is the success
of his teaching method. How did he teach and what did his students
learn? Ostensibly, he used the Socratic method and his students learned
contract law. But on a closer look, neither of these appears to be the
Kingsfield v. Law Students
Paper Chase is the story of a first-year law student and his encounter
with Professor Kingsfield. Kingsfield begins his course in contract law
with the advantage of a long-held, widely-circulated and well-deserved
reputation for rigor in class and ingenuity at humbling students. In the
first class he announces that he will use the Socratic method.
We use the Socratic method here. I call on you, ask you a question,
and you answer it. . . . Through this method of questioning,
answering, questioning, answering, we seek to develop in you the
ability to analyze that vast complex of facts that constitute the rela-
tionships of members within a given society. . . . You teach
yourselves the law, but I train your mind. You come in here with a
skull full of mush, and you leave thinking like a lawyer.
He proceeds to assign heavy case readings and to call upon students to
recite. However, nowhere in the film can one see the Socratic method, as
will be explained below. Nor is the object of study the law. The salient
dramatic feature of this classroom is the contest established between pro-
fessor and students.
We see students enter the class and we hear the professor put a series of
pointed questions, in an aloof and brusque manner. Students are called
upon and typically fail to answer correctly. We see the anxiety on faces
* Assistant professor of education, University of California, Riverside.


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