If you’re starting law school soon, you’ve probably heard about the infamous “cold call.” Being randomly called on to answer questions can be intimidating for new students. Here’s what cold calls are all about and how to deal with them effectively.
What is a Cold Call in Law School?
Cold calling refers to the common practice in law school courses of professors randomly selecting students to answer questions about an assigned case or reading.
Unlike in some classes where the teacher takes volunteers, law professors frequently call on students whether their hand is raised or not. This keeps all students engaged and accountable for coming to class prepared.
The cold call is meant to mimic the real-world experience of being put on the spot in a courtroom. Learning to think and speak analytically under pressure is considered a rite of passage in legal education.
Why Do Professors Cold Call?
There are several key reasons law professors utilize the cold call teaching method:
- Ensures reading comprehension – Randomly calling on students motivates everyone to fully read and understand assignments rather than skimming material.
- Improves public speaking – Frequent participation develops students’ ability to articulate ideas and think on their feet. These skills are vital for lawyers.
- Promotes active learning – Cold calls encourage students to actively wrestle with concepts instead of sitting back passively.
- Keeps class lively – Random participation keeps energy and discussion flowing better than just lecturing alone.
- Equalizes opportunity – Volunteers tend to dominate class time. Cold calls ensure all students get a chance to contribute.
Though anxiety-inducing for some, cold calls remain common practice because professors feel their pedagogical benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
How to Handle Being Cold Called
Getting cold called for the first time often provokes dread. Here are some tips to alleviate stress and acquit yourself well when the professor summons your name:
- Stay calm – The situation feels worse mentally than it really is. Take a deep breath to relax. No need to panic.
- Ask for clarification – If you’re unsure of the question, politely ask the professor to rephrase it before answering.
- Reference the material – Quote the case or reading directly to demonstrate you comprehend the content.
- Explain your thought process – Walk through how you’re analyzing the issue step-by-step. The reasoning is what matters most.
- Admit uncertainty – Don’t guess if you really don’t know. There’s no shame in honestly saying “I’m not sure, professor.”
- Consider all perspectives – Acknowledge other potential arguments, even if you don’t agree with them.
- Stay engaged – Listen closely to the professor’s feedback and build off it. Cold calls are a dialogue.
The goal isn’t to sound like a genius. As long as you demonstrate a good-faith effort at thoughtful analysis, you’ll get through it just fine.
Best Practices for Preparing for Cold Calls
While no preparation makes cold calls stress-free, running through some practice can boost your confidence to respond smoothly.
- Don’t just skim assigned texts. Read closely and actively. Highlight key passages. Jot down main concepts.
- Make brief outlines or visual maps to crystallize key issues and logical connections.
- After reading, think of questions the professor is likely to ask about the core issues and reasoning.
- Consider how you’d walk through analyzing those potential questions.
Practice Articulating Ideas
- Take some main questions you identified and practice speaking out loud about how you’d approach answering them.
- Get comfortable expressing legal analysis coherently before doing it live.
- Observe classmates who handle cold calls well. What techniques do they use? What makes their reasoning clear?
Simulate the Scenario
- Have a study partner randomly call on you to get used to responding extemporaneously about cases. The more practice, the better.
Preparing intellectually won’t eliminate nerves entirely, but it will help you feelREADY when the professor calls your name.
What to Do If You Make a Mistake
Don’t beat yourself up if you flub an answer during a cold call. It happens; law school questions are designed to be challenging.
If you realize you made a substantive error:
- Politely ask if you can re-address the issue after reconsidering your analysis.
- If called on later, correct your mistaken logic or facts. Demonstrating reflection is valuable.
- After class, clarify the right analysis by reviewing notes or consulting the professor.
Remember, occasional mistakes are part of the learning process. What matters is striving to continually improve.
Being cold called on in law school classes may never be totally stress-free. But going in with an understanding of the pedagogical reasons professors use the technique can help reframe it as an educational opportunity.
Preparing thoroughly, practicing responses, and availing yourself of all learning moments will ensure cold calls become rewarding instead of painful. With time and experience, the discomfort of being put on the spot will fade.
Stay confident in yourself, keep perspective, and remember that cold calls are designed to turn students into smarter legal thinkers and communicators.