Who’s Your Favorite Singer? Wrong!

–From Ari Johnson, College of William & Mary Law School, Date of event: Fall 2004

Some law professors use the Socratic Method as a teaching device. Others use it to make sure their students are awake. But some professors play the Socratic Method as if it were a game of chess. My Torts professor was one of those. You could never win this game with him, of course. One day, he walked into class and the first words out of his mouth were “Mr. Johnson,” and he didn’t let up on me for fifteen minutes, hammering me with questions about the 1853 British case of Lumley v. Gye (in which a person was held liable for damages caused when he induced an opera singer to break her exclusive contract with an opera house).

Seeing that I was prepared, he threw me a curveball: “Mr. Johnson, who is your favorite singer?” Not having any authority to cite, I didn’t answer this question out of a fear that I’d somehow get it wrong. Of course, there is no wrong answer in the non-Socratic world to such a question, but there’s no such thing as a “reasonable law student” when it comes to irrational fear.

The prof finally asked my classmates to select a favorite singer for me and they decided on Bob Dylan. The professor continued to play the game out to its conclusion. This might be why some people choose boxing over law: 12 rounds can’t possibly be as bad as 25 minutes of the Socratic Method at its finest.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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