A story told by Ken White:

The year is 1993. The place, a stuffy and officious law school.

The lead player is a prominent law professor who shares a name with a famous playwright. So let’s call him Professor Ibsen.

Professor Ibsen was a notorious devotee of the Socratic Method, which you may have seen in media depictions of law school.

The essence of law school Socratic method was, traditionally, calling on a student in class without forewarning and asking him or her a series of questions about a case, and the issues presented by it, probing unstintingly for understanding of the issue in front of the class.

The Socratic method is good to the extent it helps prepare you to deal with judges who act like that. It can be, and sometimes even is, done in a non-douchey manner. Traditionally a feature, not a bug, of the method is that it caused people to prepare for fear of humiliation.

As I said, Professor Ibsen was a huge fan of the Socratic Method, used it relentlessly, obviously enjoyed its more traumatic aspects, and had a very high expectation for his students’ level of preparation, and a low level of tolerance for lack of preparation.

So one day Professor Ibsen cold-calls on a student. “Miss Smith [or whatever],” he intoned. “Please tell me the material facts in Whoever vs. Whatsis Corp.”

[Note that in 1993 you still got “Miss” a lot, particularly from gentlemen of a certain age.]

Smith . . . lost it. She explained that she had left her book on the train last night on the way home, tried and failed to find a substitute last night to do the reading, and tried to get the book from someone else before class unsuccessfully.

Smith, who was clearly on the verge of tears (don’t judge — the method can be very stressful), protested that she ALWAYS prepared and this setback was VERY unusual and she was very sorry and upset.

Professor Ibsen — glowered. He stared, frowning, wordlessly, arms crossed.

Ibsen was clearly not satisfied with the explanation or moved by Smith’s obvious distress. After a long, excruciating moment, he turned from her to the young man sitting next to her, who had his head down on his harms on the desk.

“MR. JONES,” he thundered. “CAN YOU ANSWER?”

Jones raised his head.

“Whoah,” he said, “I was on the same train.”










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