Four Vital Tips For Surviving Cold Calling In Law School

Cold Calling In Law School

Four Vital Tips For Surviving Cold Calling In Law School

Classes in law school are likely going to be significantly different from what you have experienced in the past.  When discussing material during a session, many professors won’t ask for volunteers.  They prefer what we refer to as cold calling.  Cold calling in law school can sound very intimidating, and you might have heard horror stories from older lawyers.  The truth is, cold calling is not bad as long as you are adequately prepared.  And it is an excellent way to impress your professors!  Their goal is to challenge you, make sure you can think on your feet, and test to see how much work you are willing to put in.

By asking for volunteers to answer questions, it’s basically an invitation to choose not to do the reading and get away with it.  To combat this, many professors prefer calling on students at random.  That way, they can see what you’re made of.  Impressing when it is your turn can go a long way toward boosting your participation grade at the end of the semester!

Four Vital Tips For Surviving Cold Calling In Law School

There are several keys to success on cold calling in law school.  Try to remember that it’s not worth getting yourself worked up over.  The professors aren’t out to get you.  They don’t want to see you fail.  They won’t make a fool out of you if you get the answer wrong.  But they do want to challenge you.  One main goal of law school is to prepare you for life as a lawyer.  You have to be able to think on your feet and prepare for your tasks.

Here are four vital tips for surviving cold calling in law school:

1. Prepare properly for every class.

In law school it is important to be familiar with the cases. You should do the reading (and try some of our speed-reading techniques to save time!)  If you’ve done the reading, you’ll probably be able to answer any question the professor throws at you.  One good way to prepare is through book briefing cases.  You really don’t need to create separate briefs for every case, it is just not a good use of your time (for more advice on this, see these posts on whether you should brief cases in law school, and why briefing cases is a waste of time).

A great strategy is to color code your cases – highlight the facts in one color, the issue in another, the rule, the analysis, the conclusion, and so forth.  That way, if a professor cold calls on you asking for the rule in a specific case, it is easily identified for you.  If you don’t want to color code, try writing notes in the margins.  Either way, this kind of preparation will help you efficiently answer questions during class.

2. Don’t read too far ahead.

Similarly, it is not a good idea to do your reading too far ahead of when the material will be discussed in class.  It might sound nice to get an advance jump, but you could find yourself struggling to handle cold calling in law school.  To succeed, you need the material to be fresh in your mind.  If you’ve read an article or a passage five days ago, you’ve likely read tons of other stuff in the meantime that has pushed the pertinent information out.  One way to help keep the material current is to obtain case briefs tailored to the casebook or an outline for this specific class and professor.  That way you can read a brief summary of what will be covered immediately before class.  The more recently you have read the material, the easier you will find it to answer your professor’s questions.

3. Pay attention to everyone’s cold calls.

It can be tempting to ignore cold calling in law school until it is your turn.  However, if you pay attention to the procedure your professor uses, you can better predict when and what you will be asked.  Many professors call on people in the same order each time through the roster.  Try to remember the people who were called on before you so that you can anticipate when it will be your turn again.

Notice how many question the professor asks each person before moving on.  Sometimes they might spend an entire class period on one individual – then you might be able to know what day you will need to be completely ready.  Some professors go through many students each class, only asking one or two questions.  If this is the case, your turn will come up quite frequently and you will always need to be on your toes.  You can learn a lot from how your professor approaches cold calling with other student, so pay attention!

4. Be confident!

Cold calling in law school is a great opportunity to think on your feet and build confidence.  Being a successful lawyer has a lot to do with attitude, and law school is where you start building confidence.  Professors want to see who has what it takes to succeed in such a high pressure field.  Try not to be nervous when you speak in front of them!  Do your best to prove you can handle this.  Even if you panic, the phrase “fake it until you make it” comes to mind.  Don’t be afraid of these situations.

Cold calling in law school is a reality everyone must face.  Everyone will stumble a few times, but no one will think badly about you if you give it your best stab.  The worst possible outcome is for you to show up unprepared.  That is not the impression you want to make on your professor.  And first impressions?  They last.  But a little confidence and a lot of effort will go a long way toward success!

Looking for more tips? Read this post on how to survive the socratic method!

Laura Sigler, a  JD Advising bar exam essay grader, who graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School wrote this post.

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Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising. Ms. Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011 after graduating as the #1 student in her law school class of over 200 students in 2011. She, as well as a team of others, offer bar exam courses, seminars, and private tutoring for bar exam students nationwide. This includes services for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and Michigan bar exam.  Please click here to contact her company, with any questions.

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