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The paper was written for the University of Wollongong - University Learning and Teaching Course
The Socratic Method has been traditionally regarded as the core of legal pedagogy. It has come to define legal education for nearly two centuries and remains a potent influence on the method of instruction found in most modern law schools around the globe. In particular, the Socratic Method is almost universally acknowledged as the defining characteristic of the American legal education system. In fact, the Socratic Method is so entrenched in modern American legal pedagogy that it has been opined that ‘a law school just isn't a law school without the Socratic method.’ In the Australian context, the suggestion that Australian law teachers do use the Socratic style of teaching is not entirely accurate. Morgan argues that ‘it is used, perhaps not identified under the particular Socratic rubric.
However, the Socratic Method, once the fundamental and irreplaceable tool of legal pedagogy appears to be declining in popularity and use. It has also been the subject of harsh and sustained challenges by a rising number of scholars who assail its methodological foundations and its efficacy as a teaching tool. There is a notable increase in the number of academic literature by law professors and even law practitioners dedicated to explore and discover new and better ways to teach law and to adopt and take advantage of new learning theories or advances in technology to provide new and better tools for teaching law. This trend of self-inquiry into the manner of teaching in law schools should be regarded as a positive development.
This paper will examine the Socratic Method, a pedagogical technique used in law schools. This paper will be divided into three parts. In the first part, and by way of introduction, will investigate the origins and rationale of the Socratic Method as a pedagogical method used in legal education. The second part will analyse and examine existing studies and literature regarding the effectiveness of the Socratic Method as a teaching method in law schools, highlighting benefits and criticisms against it. The third part will evaluate alternate teaching methodologies used in law schools suitable to prepare law students for the legal profession. The last part and by way of conclusion will include a synthesis as well as personal reflections on the Socratic Method as a pedagogical tool in legal education.