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The Cold Call

M.T., 1L

One of the things that most, if not all, incoming law students are afraid of at the beginning of first semester is being "cold called" in class. Some people saw the movie "The Paper Chase" or read "1L" [personally, I refused to do either!] and determined that professors want students to look stupid or screw up in front of the entire class. Luckily, at Yale, that is most certainly not the case – although each professor has a different way of cold calling (or not), they're generally a good-natured bunch, and the modified Socratic method actually does force you to learn quite a bit.  This is one of the biggest differences between Yale and our other peer schools.

Currently, each of my four professors has a different method for the use of cold calling. My torts professor, Guido (who if you read this blog should already be familiar with), likes to assign a section of the class to be "on call" for each section of cases. Supposedly, people sitting in that section are supposed to be extra-vigilant in their reading so that they're ready to answer questions…but usually, so many people volunteer that everyone forgets who's on call in the first place.

My procedure professor expects everyone to be prepared to talk about the reading, but he usually hints as to whom he's planning to call on during the next class so that those people can be ready. In procedure, we're often asked to take on the persona of a Supreme Court justice and give our opinion about how we'd have ruled on a particular case – to be put on the spot like that is sometimes scary, but it helps you really understand the underlying legal principles (and it can be fun to pretend to be Scalia or O'Connor!).  Plus, his warm nature makes everyone feel calm and comfortable.

My small group class (with only 15 1L students) is constitutional law. For each day of class, only one person is on call. I'm on call tomorrow: I'm supposed to be the expert on affirmative action decisions of the Court. I'm a little worried I'll get some of the dissenting opinions mixed up, but our professor is really helpful, and the seminar style of the class means that everyone pitches in to help you out if you're not sure of an answer – small group members stick together!

In contracts, my professor calls on just one or two people a day, out of the blue – no warning. Today I ended up being on call, and it went just fine since I'd done the reading. Talking with the professor about the arguments in the case definitely made me focus on the most important points, even if it meant that I was too busy participating in class that I didn't get to take notes. Luckily, my small group members (with whom I have all my classes) sent me notes before I even left class; the community at YLS is really strong among us students, but the way that professors interact with us while "cold calling" extends the warm family-like feeling throughout the faculty, too.  I guess YLS is just different than the rest!