Professor Molly Bishop Shadel discusses what law students can expect in class and how to read cases. She spoke as part of the Class of 2026 orientation.
SHADEL: Welcome all of you. You are embarking upon your legal education and eventually, your legal careers. And not only that, but you are doing it at one of the top law schools in this country. So congratulations. Good for all of you.
So you've done the hard work that was required to get into law school. Now we're going to talk a little bit about the hard work that is to come. So I'm going to focus on getting you ready for the Socratic method.
But let me ask you this, by a show of hands, how many of you have seen either The Paper Chase or Legally Blonde? Put your hand in the air. So everybody, and yet you're still coming to law school. Good for you.
So if you've seen those movies, then you've seen Hollywood's version of the Socratic method. It's the signature pedagogy of law school. It's the way that law schools in America have been teaching students since the 1870s.
The guy who first came up with this was a fellow named Christopher Columbus Langdell. I love that name. He was the Dean of Harvard Law School back in 1870. And he thought that this would be a good way to teach students how to think like a lawyer.
So prior to this idea, people would come to law school and you would just sit there passively and you would listen to a lecture. And maybe you'd be given-- you could be given a list of rules or statutes and memorize those. That might sound pretty good to you.
But Christopher Columbus Langdell thought it would be better to teach law students to actually be able to do the work of a lawyer. And so instead of teaching a list of statutes, he had students read cases. So these are published judicial opinions, which we call cases. And he would then ask them questions about these cases.
And through that question and answer that kind of colloquy, the students who were speaking and also the students who were listening were able to discern important legal principles and do this hard thinking. So we're still using this method today. And why are we doing that?
So one good reason is that the law isn't just a list of rules or cases. In America and in some other countries as well, we have a common law system, which means that the law includes those statutes, but it also includes what the judges say about those statutes. So these cases that you're reading, they become a very important part of the law, sometimes even more important than the statute itself, like figuring out how to interpret it. So that's one reason.
Another reason is that the law is complicated. So even if you had, let's say, a list of statutes, let's imagine that you had a statute that said, no vehicles allowed in this public park, well, then you have questions. So, does that mean my kid can't ride a tricycle through the public park? Does that mean if I want to set up a war memorial and I'd like the centerpiece to be an old tank, is that allowed? Or is that a vehicle in a public park?
So that's where these cases come in, these written judicial opinions. This is where judges are interpreting the law. And those are the sorts of things that you're studying in law school.
We teach this way as well because it's giving you a chance to practice doing what lawyers do. So this is what lawyers do. Lawyers read text carefully. So you're reading your cases carefully.
And then lawyers try to figure out, what is the heart of this? What is this really telling me? And that's what you're doing as well. You're trying to discern like what is the legal principle at work here.
And then you're trying to figure out, how would this work in the future? And that's really the bread and butter of lawyering, figuring out a client comes to me and says, I want to do this. And I'm trying to figure out, can my client do this? In order to be able to answer that question, I need to understand how what my client is saying they want to do how that would be controlled by the cases that came before, like what's allowed and what's not. So this is a chance to practice that.
What about the public part of it? That's the part that definitely terrified me as a law student being called on and having to answer the questions in front of other people. And one reason why we do that is because it is a rhetorical education. So lawyers have to be able to explain things out loud clearly and sometimes under tremendous pressure. So that's certainly going to be the case if you'd like to be a courtroom lawyer.
But even if you don't, even if you think I'm going to spend all my time in my office thinking about tax law, you're still going to have to be able to explain that tax law to clients. And they're going to ask you questions. And so on the fly, you might have to be able to say something articulate and intelligent. So this is a way to practice that.
Now, look, not every class uses the Socratic method. In fact, when you get into your second and third year, I think, you'll find that most of your classes are not using the Socratic method because you'll be signing up for seminars, clinics, experiential classes, like the sorts of things that I teach. But during your first year, you probably will encounter the Socratic method. And so that's why we're going to focus on this a little bit.
So what I want to give you are sort of two buckets of tips. So the first is how you're going to prepare before you even go into class so that if you're called on, you can handle it. And then I'll give you some tips about what to do when you're actually in class and answering these questions.
So let's start first with before class, how are you going to prepare? And the first thing that you're going to have to be able to do is keep up with the reading. So you will find-- maybe you've already found-- that you are assigned a lot of reading as a law student. And it can sometimes feel like drinking from the fire hose. But you're going to need to keep up with it.
And that might require an approach that's different than what you might have done in college. So when I was a college student, I majored in English. So I had a lot of reading.
But I found that I didn't always have to do it exactly when the professor was lecturing about it. If I hadn't read the book, I could still show up at the lecture and just take notes. And so as long as I got the reading done by the final exam or in time to write a paper about it or whatever, I was totally fine.
Law school doesn't work that way. The knowledge is cumulative. So each class builds on the class that came before. So if you end up not doing the reading for a class, then the class that follows, you're going to be lost. And then the class after that, you're going to be even more lost.
So you really do need to figure out how to keep up with these assignments. And at first, it's hard. It is hard to read cases. So I think Dean Davies asked you to read Lucy versus zehmer for today. And you might have been scratching your head because a lot of the words are unfamiliar.
A lot of these cases are pretty old timey. So you're trying to figure out what are these people saying when they are talking. A lot of the vernacular is unfamiliar because it's legal in nature.
So I can remember as a One-L, I had my Black's Law Dictionary. And I would look up all of those unfamiliar words. That's just what it's going to take at first. You're going to have to read the cases more than once very, very likely in order to understand what's happening.
So just that it might take some time at the beginning and come up with a system for that. So I used to think of law school as a full-time job, again, very different from college when I was really thinking about being in the school play, that kind of thing. Law school, you really want to devote a significant amount of time every day to the work. And so that means from 9:00 to 6:00 each day or whatever your work schedule is, you're either in class or you're preparing for class.
And if you do that, it means you're chipping away at the reading. And over time, you're going to be able to get it done. I promise it gets easier the more you do it. So the more you read cases, they will start to become familiar. And you will start to recognize patterns of what is showing up in these cases.
And the words will become more familiar as well. So it's going to get easier the more you do it. But at the beginning, just leave yourself extra time and be patient with yourself. And just know that it might take a little while to get the hang of it, but you will get the hang of it because we admitted you to this law school, and our admissions office does not make mistakes. So you are smart enough to do this.
All right, you're going to keep up with the reading. The next thing that you're going to do is you're going to read for particular things. So there are certain things that should jump out at you as you are reading these cases. And these are the things that are important and that you're likely to be asked about in class if you get called on.
All right, so what are these particular things? You want to look for first, the story, the facts of the case, like who did what to whom, who sued whom, and why. So if you got called on and your professor said, ms. Smith, please recite the facts of the case, that's what they're asking for, like, here's the plaintiff, here's the defendant, here's why they are in court.
You also want to look for the procedural posture. So this means what kind of court are we in? And how exactly did we get here? So most of the time, the opinions that you will be reading will be courts of appeals. So looking at what happened at the trial level, but now you're in front of an appellate court.
Occasionally, you're going to read opinions by trial court judges. But usually it's going to be courts of appeals. And it might be a state court or it might be a federal court. So you might be looking at that as well. Very often what you're reading in law school classes is Supreme Court opinions.
But the reason you want to figure this out is it lets you know first of all, what is the question that this court is trying to answer? So I was surprised when I started law school to learn that a court of appeals doesn't redo the trial. They don't get to answer every question about what should have been gone differently at the trial level.
A court of appeals is only answering the question that was preserved for appeal. So somebody objected to a very specific thing, that's what the court of appeals is looking at. So you're trying to figure out, what is the question that this court is answering? And that also might give you some sense of, what kind of discretion the court has?
So if a court of appeals is looking at question of fact, it's going to defer to the trial court. So you're going to see that it's only going to overturn what the trial court did if it was clearly erroneous. And the idea behind that is the trial court was there and actually saw what was going on, whereas courts of appeals, those judges they didn't get to see the trial. They are just reading the briefs, and they're hearing argument by the lawyers, but they weren't there first hand.
However, if it's a legal question, a question of law, then the court of appeals might have more discretion. So you might see a paragraph where they're talking about what level of review they have and what the question is that they are specifically being asked to answer. So you'll want to pay attention to that.
You will also want you to notice issues of precedent. All right, so this idea of precedent. Legal reasoning is a very particular way of thinking about things. So let's imagine that in real life, you are in an argument with your parents. Your parents are trying to get you to do something.
And they say to you, well, got to do this because that's just the way we've always done it. So I can imagine that might not be very persuasive to you. However, if you are a lawyer and you are arguing before a judge and you say it has to be done this way because that is the way we've always done it, you might well win your case. And that is because of this notion of precedent, which means following the decisions that have been handed down in the past.
So if you're a lawyer and you're saying to the judge, I want you to do this, and no one's ever done it that way before, you're probably not going to win. So you will see judges struggling with this in their opinions. And you might see the phrase stare decisis, which is a Latin term that means to stand by things decided. So if you see any discussion about precedent or stare decisis, you're going to want to pay attention to this.
So sometimes what happens is have a case where you really want it to turn out a particular way, and it just doesn't. And it's because of precedent, so like the outcome seems preposterous. Those are the kinds of cases we love to assign you in law school because there's a lot to say about those cases.
But that's the deal, like, that's how this works. Law is inherently conservative by which I mean slow to change for a bunch of reasons, even if you end up with preposterous outcomes sometimes. We have this conservative system because people need to how to order their lives. They need to be able to anticipate what the law is going to say about things. So precedent lets the citizenry this is how I need to set up my affairs.
And we do it this way as well to protect litigants from the vagaries of a judge who might not like them. So if you have precedent, that means that the judge is going to have to apply the law fairly to everybody, even a party that the judge personally doesn't care for. It doesn't matter because the precedent is going to control what's happening.
So having a system where you can predict what the laws are going to be and where everybody is following the law, that's a system that is governed by the rule of law. And that is a hallmark of a civilized society. And we also follow precedent for purely practical reasons. If judges had to decide legal issues fresh every single time, the workload would just be overwhelming. They wouldn't be able to get anything done.
So there's this famous quote by Justice Brandeis, who says-- let me find my quote here, he says, "In most matters, it is more important that the question be settled than that it be decided right. So that might give you pause, but that's the idea of precedent. So if you see the judge talking about cases from the past and then trying to figure out is the case before me the same as those cases or is it different in some way, that's what the judge is trying to figure out-- what is the precedent that's binding here?
So just as a judge is bound by the decisions that came in the past, so too what this judge says in this case will bind people in the future. So that's another thing that you would want to think about. You want to figure out, what exactly is this judge saying? What is the thing that would then bind future courts?
So the thing that will bind future courts is called the holding of the case. So the holding is whatever the judge says that was necessary to resolve the dispute at hand. Now judges are often and long-winded folks who like to say many things. And so you might see other discussions in these cases. And they could be entertaining.
They could have great logic. But if they weren't necessary to resolving the dispute at hand, that extra stuff is called dicta, and it's not binding. So, for example, if you've got a judge who's trying to figure out the whole situation about vehicles in the park and he's looking at a case where somebody drove a car through the park, but in the opinion kind of opines about, oh, well, what if you had a scooter and drove the scooter through the park?
The stuff that he said about the car is going to be your holding because that was necessary to resolving the dispute at hand. The stuff that he says about the scooter is dicta because there was no scooter in the case that I just hypothesized. So in a future case involving a scooter, you might look at the dicta. It might help you come up with a great way to argue something, but it's not going to be binding. So you want to figure that out when you are reading your case.
You will also want you to notice what facts were really important to the holding and how this holding might apply to a new fact pattern. This is a favorite question that law school professors will ask you because it is really the heart of what a lawyer does, trying to figure out how would this principle apply to what my client is going through. So a professor might ask you, what if we were to change this piece of the fact pattern. Would we have the same result or not?
I think it's helpful to also where you are in the course of this class. So trying to figure out where this case fits into the course overall can be really useful. So two ways you could figure that out, one, would be the syllabus might tell you.
The syllabus might say we're studying this, and then here are the cases that relate to that. If not there, then take a look in your course book and look at the table of contents. And it will often tell you, like, this is the big picture thing that we're looking at with these cases.
And I would also look for important text. So lawyers care very much about text. And paraphrasing the text may not be good enough. So if you have a judge who says, I hereby now lay out a three-part test to help resolve this sort of thing, I would be circling that three part test. And I would be able to actually read that language out in class if you get questioned about it because you might be asked to parse the actual language that is before you.
So those are the things that you are reading for. So, what have you done so far? You're keeping up with your reading, and you're reading for particular things. You also need to devise a system for taking notes.
And there are two reasons you need to do this. One is taking notes is yet another way to process this material. So taking notes is going to help you in your learning. It helps you make sure that you are understanding what is significant. But the other reason that you want to take notes is because if you are in a class that's relying on the Socratic method and you get called on, it is really helpful to have notes that serve as a good visual aid for you so that even if you're terrified, you can look down at your great notes and find the answer to the question that you are being asked.
So I'm going to tell you a little-- I'm going to take you through a system of note taking that I used when I was in law school. You don't have to use this particular system. You just need a system. But I'll share with you my system. And you are welcome to adopt it.
And in order to do this, I am going to rely on the case of Lucy versus Zehmer. So you've probably read Lucy versus Zehmer. But if you didn't or you read it and you didn't understand it, it's totally fine because I can explain it to you.
So Lucy versus Zehmer is a case from Virginia in the 1950s. And here's what was going on. This lovely property is the Ferguson Farm in Dinwoody County. So you can see why Mr. Lucy wanted this so much beautiful, beautiful piece of land.
Mr. Lucy had long coveted the Ferguson Farm, but it was owned by Mr. Zehmer and his wife Ida. So Mr. Zehmer comes to-- Mr. Lucy comes to the Zehmer's multiple times over the years and says, I want to buy the farm. And every time they're like, no, no, no, you can't have it.
So on this fateful day on December the 20, 1952, Mr. Lucy had a plan. Mr. Lucy entered this lovely restaurant Ye Old Virginny, which was owned by Mr. Zehmer and his wife. It's a restaurant and gas station.
So he walked in there with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and began to ply Mr. Zehmer with the whiskey. So in that opinion you saw there was testimony. There was a waitress who said that they were drinking right much. And Mr. Zehmer said, "He was high as a Georgia pine." He also said things like great balls of fire because that's how we talk in Virginia.
So after much drinking, Mr. Zehmer writes out a bill of sale for the farm. And here is the actual bill of sale. So it's written on a restaurant check, but you can see that it's got complete terms.
It says, "We hereby agree to sell to W.O. Lucy the Ferguson Farm complete for $50,000 title satisfactory to buyer." That sounds all legal. And it's signed. It's signed by Mr. Zehmer and his wife Ida.
So Mr. Lucy's like, "Yay, here's my money. I want the farm." And Mr. Zehmer says, "Oh, wait. I was just kidding. I don't want to sell it to you." All right, so that's the basic plot of what gets us into court.
So here's my first way of taking notes. I used to take notes in my course book. And here's how I would do it. I would first read through the case and not highlight anything because my first read through, I was just trying to get the lay of the land, like, what is happening here and what's going to be important.
Actually when I first started doing this, I would just read and highlight. And what I ended up with was like a book where everything was highlighted. And that was just not useful at all. So reading through it once with nothing. And then reading through it again, but being particular about what you're highlighting can be really useful.
So here is the first part of the Lucy versus Zehmer case. And all these examples are in Finding Your Voice in Law School. This is on page 26. So if you don't have that book, it sounds like they might have more copies in the Student Affairs Office. So go get it, and you can see all this.
But you can see like this is the stuff that I was highlighting in this case and in every case. So I was always looking for the names of the parties, who's the plaintiff, who's the defendant. And I would circle them. And then I would write out in the margin plaintiff, defendant.
I even had the little-- you can abbreviate defendant as a triangle and plaintiff as the pie sign and it's just cool. So you could do that. But but quickly, I could find the names of who sued whom.
I also had at the bottom of this page, this is the procedural posture. And so you can see that this is an appellate court. It's been appealed, and they're looking for specific performance.
So you wouldn't know this because you haven't started law school yet, but specific performance means give me the actual farm. Don't just give me money to make me whole. Give me the actual farm.
And then I had a handy-dandy highlighter with multiple colors. And this is the situation in which I might use that highlighter. So here these two middle paragraphs, these are telling you the facts of the case. And some of these are really helpful to Mr. Lucy. And some are helpful to Mr Zehmer.
And they're kind of mixed up. So the stuff that's helpful to Mr. Lucy, you might highlight in Green. So that's stuff like, Mr. Zehmer actually wrote this contract. And Mr. Zehmer wrote out the complete terms of it. And Mr. Zehmer signed it, and he got his wife to sign it. So those things if I were the lawyer for Mr. Lucy, those are the things that I would rely on.
So if you have that and then your professor says, Ms. Smith, please make the best argument you can on behalf of Mr. Lucy, you'd be able to point to some of these facts.
And then the facts for Mr. Zehmer, he thinks it's a joke. They are drinking. He quickly refused. He didn't have any intention of selling. So that's all that stuff's in yellow.
So you have that, but in addition to that, it is really helpful to have a case brief. So a case brief, a case brief is not the same thing as a legal brief. So a legal brief is like a memo that you write to a court when you're trying to get the court to rule on some legal dispute. And it's many, many pages long.
A case brief is something that you use in law school that is just one-page long. And is just a summary of the case. So here is my case brief for this case. And again, this is in Finding Your Voice in Law School.
So this is actually the form that I used to use in law school. So I had a form, like a Microsoft Word document where I was always looking for the parties, the issue, the facts, the holding, the reasoning. And I would just fill in those fields for each case that I was reading.
So the reason that it's great to kind of do this is, first of all, I can quickly find what I'm looking for. If you ask me about what is the holding, I know exactly where to look on my one-page form. But secondly, it's just the discipline of it.
You've read the case. You've highlighted the case. Now you're doing it a third time by like sorting it out for yourself on this one-page form. You do that, you're going to know this case. You're going to have something useful to say if you get called on in class.
So you make this one-page brief, and then you fix it in class. If it turns out you got something wrong or the discussion ended up focusing on something you didn't even think that it would focus on, after class, you go back and add stuff to your brief. This brief is going to really help you later as well. So it's going to help you in class, but it's also going to help you later when you are taking the exam because you will have one-page notes about each case.
And that can start you off as you create an outline for your class, which is not a topic we're going to talk about today, but I imagine you will be getting it later. It's a document that you should be using in your exams. You should not be outlining yet because you're not far enough along in law school. So give it a couple of months before you outline or at least a month.
But you do want to do this. And you may have peer advisors that are going to tell you not to do this, they are wrong. Do this. It will really, really help you.
So ultimately, what happens in this case? Mr. Lucy wins. And it's because you don't want a system where you could have somebody like Mr. Zehmer say, whoops, I was just kidding and that undoes the contract all along.
I have to say, though, there are two things that bother me about this case. So one is that Mr. Lucy came in with the whiskey, like, he was planning this and got Mr. Zehmer drunk. And the court of appeals says, well, Mr. Zehmer wasn't drunk enough for it to make a difference. And I just want to how they know that.
They're not the trial court. They didn't see this guy. So so it bothers me that Mr. Zehmer was drunk. And it bothers me that the court of appeals said he wasn't drunk enough, although if you read carefully, you see that Mr. Zehmer's lawyer apparently conceded that on oral argument.
Do not do that. If you are representing a client, don't concede something as pivotal as that. But here's another way to look at the Lucy versus Zehmer case maybe the take-home principle is this, friends don't let friends draft drunk.
So you do all those things, you keep up with the reading, you read for particular things, you create your great visual aids, you are going to be fine when you get called on in class. Nevertheless, it is nerve wracking to get called on in class. Let me just give you a few tips about how to deal with that
So what are you going to do in class, one thing you're going to do is, especially if you're going to get called on, I would prepare by predicting the question that you might get. So Finding Your Voice in Law School page 43, I gave you a list of the kinds of questions that professors really love to ask. So you could look at that list and see if any of them apply to the case you think you're going to be talking about.
When you're in class-- why is this not working anymore? There we go. During class, you are going to pay attention. And you are going to pay attention even if you're not being called on.
So even if you're like, somebody else gets called on and you're like, whoa, don't take that as the time to then tune out. So first of all, because you're paying so much money to be here and the class, like, that is the show, that is the thing. So pay attention. Don't waste all that money.
But also because you are learning, and the way that you learn is to listen to what your classmates are saying, listen to what the professor is asking, and how the classmates are answering because that, again, is honing your own knowledge. You're mentally practicing thinking like a lawyer. So, how do you pay attention?
I would turn off distractions. So I think that the internet is terrible. Laptops are terrible. In fact, I found that by the end of law school-- when I started, I was sitting in the back row because I didn't want anybody to call on me.
But if you sit-in the back row, it's so distracting because the people in front of you might be doing stuff on their laptops, and you can't you can't tear your eyes away, like, you're looking at what they're buying on Amazon. You can't not look. And if you're doing that, you're wasting your time and your money.
So by the end of law school I was one of those people sitting in the front row. And I think, I thought, oh, people are going to think I'm a gunner or something. Who cares? You sit-in the front row, you get to be a law school professor one day. So give it a try.
I think it's helpful to be your own law school professor. So if you are not being called on, I'd still be thinking critically and deciding for yourself if you think a classmate's answer is well reasoned and why or why not. And I'd also be paying attention to what you need to be revising in your brief after class based on what you learned in class.
All right, let's say you are called on. So they call out your name, Ms. Smith and you're like, oh! So that jolt of adrenaline is natural. It is going to happen. Here is how you are going to deal with this.
So first of all, just take the time to create those great visual aids. I promise it will help you. It is your security blanket. So if you've got that brief in your textbook and they're with you ready to use, you are going to be OK.
But you hear your name, you feel that jolt of adrenaline, it is then hard to think. So you feel that jolt of adrenaline, and what happens is your brain is sensing danger. And so suddenly your amygdala is working. You've got lots of emotions. You've got adrenaline coursing through your body.
And your heart starts racing. And your face gets red. And it's just harder to think. So here is a thing you can do to bring the thinking part of your brain back online so that you can share the wisdom from your visual aids.
Simple thing, you can take a deep breath. That is all that is required. Everybody, do that right now. Just take a deep breath. [INHALES DEEPLY]
And can you feel how you just get a little more calm? So this is not just like witchcraft. This is science. We've got this whole contemplative center at UVA that examines things like how the brain works.
Taking a deep breath is intentionally triggering your parasympathetic nervous system. And so it takes the feeling of being called on out of the emotional part of your brain and puts it in the prefrontal cortex so that you can start thinking. So take that deep breath.
Then I would tune out everybody else. I would just focus on the professor. I found it distracting to pay attention to what my classmates were doing or thinking about, what are they thinking? I don't think any of that helps your learning.
So I just focus on the professor and the question the professor asked. And I would just think about this as a conversation. You've had 1,000 conversations in your life. This is just another one.
You also want to focus on the professor because usually, they're going to try to help you get it right. So if you listen, they're probably giving you hints about where it is want to go. So just focus on the professor. And then take your best shot.
If you don't understand the question, it's OK to ask for clarification. Questions are tough or we wouldn't bother asking them. And if you ask for clarification, you again might get more hints from the professor about what it is the professor is wanting you to do.
And then just answer. You probably do the answer. And if you have taken the time to do that thinking, create those visual aids, you know something that is useful. You will have some sort of idea that will be helpful to the class. So just do it.
You'll want to also try answering with confidence. So this is part of what you're practicing. You're practicing sounding like a lawyer, putting on your game face. So even though, of course, you will feel nervous, practice sounding professional. And practice also the right tone that you're going to want to use.
So I would be thinking conversation with the professor or with other classmates as collaborative. I would imagine it as you guys are just like passing the ball back and forth trying to-- you're just exploring ideas together. You're just curious about these ideas. So if that's the tone that you have, then it's going to be an interesting conversation.
If instead you think of it as have to beat somebody, I promise you, you're not going to beat the professor. But if you're trying to beat your classmates, then you're wrecking relationships. And you were all just here to learn. So I would be thinking about using a collaborative and positive tone. All right.
I also will tell you that this does get easier the more you do it. I can remember my first cold call and it was terrifying. By the time I was a three all, I was like, bring it. Whatever you want to ask me is fine. So it's just more practice, it's going to get easier.
What do you do if you don't the answer? So if you don't the answer because you are truly unprepared, you didn't do the reading, I think, it's better just to fess up right away so you're not wasting the class's time. And then be prepared for next time, and be prepared for many next times because you're probably going to get called on again. So much better to keep up with the reading, the very first point that we made. But if you didn't do the reading, I think, it's better just to say, I'm really sorry, I'm unprepared today so that the professor can move on to somebody else.
And then I would-- if you did do the reading, I would trust yourself. You were smart enough to get into this law school. So you are smart enough to figure this out. And that prep work that you're doing is going to help you figure out what the right answer is.
Sometimes you're going to get follow-up questions. And that doesn't mean you're wrong. Sometimes you'll say something and the professor will in a skeptical tone say, well, what about this Ms. Smith? And actually, you got the answer right.
And the reason the professor is pressing is because you didn't burst into tears and you said something wise. And so the professor thinks, good, I can get my more helpful information out of this student. So I wouldn't take follow-up questions as meaning anything other than we're still just passing the ball back and forth.
It's also really helpful to slow down. So again, taking that deep breath because if you are nervous and you're speaking a mile a minute, it's really difficult to think. So I try intentionally slowing down.
And I would also mentally lower the stakes. So I can remember bombing a cold call or two and thinking, boy, this means I shouldn't be a lawyer. And that's just not true.
What it means is you're in a class, and you're learning. And the questions we're asking you are hard. And I tell you, nobody's thinking the worst of you. The professor's definitely not thinking the worst of you.
The professor is thinking, oh gosh, how could I fix that question so next semester when I ask it again, it's easier to understand? And your classmates are feeling nothing but sympathy because everybody feels nervous about answering questions in class. So just change the story that you're telling yourself about this.
If you do well, celebrate. Good for you. If it didn't go the way you wanted it to, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, try it again. It just means that you're learning.
And you're supposed to be learning for three years. It takes a while. So it's totally fine if the question wasn't-- you didn't answer it exactly right.
There are also classes that you can take here that will help improve your ability to think and speak on your feet. So a limitation that I see in cold calls is that sometimes you only get called on one time during the semester. And if it didn't go well, then it's like you bombed this thing, and then you didn't get a chance to get it to practice honing that skill.
So if you want to learn how to speak effectively, which by the way, I think, everyone should because it is a useful skill set for lawyers, you could take any of these classes. So the first ones are the ones that I teach, these public speaking classes-- persuasion, oral presentations, hallmarks, distinguished advocacy, advanced oral persuasion. You could take a negotiations class, which three of us teach. You could take a seminar, a clinic, any of the trial advocacy classes.
And you might be thinking, I'm not good at speaking out loud in public. I don't enjoy that. And so, why would I take these classes? And I am here to tell you that most people who start in these classes feel like they're not good at it, but they're brave. And they're willing to put in the time to do it again and again and again.
And I promise you by week 13, you will be great. And then you will have that skill set. And you'll be able to take it out into the world and become the successful lawyers that I all of you are destined to be. So those are all my tips. I am going to turn the floor over now to Professor Geis who will lead you in a Socratic class.