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Law School 101: Tips on How to Handle Recitations in Law School.

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Barrista Solutions compiles tips on how to prepare for recitations. Law School recitations are dreaded by law students and these tips will help them be confident when their names are called to discuss a topic.

One of the most taxing tasks in law school is being able to survive an everyday recitation with various professors. Standing the tests of time is the ever-famous Socratic Method employed by different practitioners all over the country. In which, the far-fetching legal knowledge of law students are tested to an extreme level.

Recitations in law school are quite different. Some would even say that these recitations are on a league of its own that the same is incomparable to all other modes of recitation. Unlike ordinary recitations wherein students are usually asked to identify and to enumerate, recitations in law school require a deeper understanding of topics assigned and due for that day. Accordingly, law students are forced to extract every bit of knowledge they have so as to please a law professor.

It is a long-standing tradition in law school history in the Philippines that students are required to have with themselves not only memorized codal provisions, terms of the law, and notable jurisprudence. They are required to have with them a firm grasp and understanding on the essence of the law, the intent of the law makers in promulgating such doctrines, and an overall understanding on how they work side by side. In short, law students are expected to read and know everything and explain these topics once asked for recitation.

But how does one correctly answer a question delivered in the Socratic Method? Most law students have a hard time analyzing the question that it leads to a low or failing mark more often than not. They are usually instructed to sit down in a jiffy after a head-scratching performance amidst tons of hours spent studying. These law students have a hard time understanding what is needed to be spoken, and what is not needed to be interpreted.

In line with our advocacy to help and give aid to law students who are having a hard time in this aspect of law school, we have come up with a list that could help you all. In order to effectively handle recitations in law school, Barrista Solutions came up with a shortlist of tips on how to help law students in their respective recitations. Take a look at the steps on how to handle recitations in law school.

1. Understand the question

The misconception in recitations in law school is that law students must be able to discuss in unimaginable length a topic at hand. In order to be effective, one must first understand what the question really is. At times, law professors offer a trick question that will lead you to a wrong answer. Spot what is being asked before answering.

Before answering, one must deal with the details of what the professor just asked. For example, if a professor asks you what is the difference between two legal doctrines, it means that what he or she is asking is only about the aforementioned terms. Do not think of answering other terms not related or not even remotely connected with the question. Be specific. Know what your professor wants to hear and focus on the same. Do not entertain other ideas that “might be connected” to what your professor is trying to look for.

2. Answer only what is being asked

The Socratic Method offers a procedure in which sets of questions are asked successively. In order to be effective, you must first answer or attend to what is being asked of you. Do not deviate and discuss several topics that may be branched out from the question at hand. Don’t add answers which are not being asked in the first place.

For example, a professor asks you what is the Facial Challenge in Constitutional Law. Only answer the said question based on law and jurisprudence. Do not add, for example, a related topic of the As Applied Doctrine. Be specific in answering. Do not jump to conclusions that the same will also be asked. Professors do not want on their class law students who are not responsive to the questions they ask. Answering in length but not quite related to the question does not make you smart. It only shows that you did not understand the question fully.

3. Only discuss additional topics when asked or if it’s necessary

The question sometimes depends on the situation. If you are able to discuss the core topic and your professor asks if that is all you have, then you could add some branching themes and topics to the same. What is directly related to the question may be discussed or if the same is implied, then you may discuss the same as well.

For example, in Criminal Law, your professor asks you what is the first justifying circumstance under the Revised Penal Code. You may answer the same directly by stating the codal provision written in the said law. If your professor asks you how it is done, then you may supplement your answers with the proper requisite and elements of self-defense. Do not take a step ahead on what your professor requires you to say. Remember that in order to have an effective recitation, you must be responsive to the question and that you must be able to determine when you should add some answers directly related to what you have just stated for a specific question.

4. Answer in the correct order

Usually, there is a structure that pleases the professor. If the question is a hypothetical question, one might answer in this order: Codal provision or case doctrine, application in the question, and analysis of both discussions. The next question, more often than not, will then stem from how you answered the first question. Follow the order of answers in this case as well.

Never jumble your thoughts in answering a question. Do not start with answering a professor’s latter question when in fact the professor also asked a prior question to the same. Try to streamline your answer by laying down necessary laws and doctrines in a manner that would not disrupt a discussion.

For example, in discussing a codal provision, you must first lay down that which the law intended to be stated. Accordingly, you may now proceed to the general rules and their elements. If there be any exceptions, then discuss the same if and when required by the professor. You cannot discuss the exceptions first and then proceed with the general rule. You will be wrong in stating such answers in that particular order.

5. Spot the issue

Upon answering, law professors would then ask a follow-up question on whether or not you are sure of your answer. Spot the issue in this situation. Was there a lacking element in your answer? Was your professor looking for an additional legal basis? Or was your answer entirely wrong? Your follow-up would mainly depend on how your professor reacts to the first /original answer.

Remember to read between the words of your professor. Accordingly, observing his or her reactions will also help in determining whether or not your answer is correct or not. Be observant also of what he or she wants to hear. The same can be deduced from the hints the professor gives or the reactions she portrays as well.

While the recitations in law school can be burdensome to most, if not to all law students, we must continue to find ways in order to overcome the same. The practice of law requires its officers to maintain good analytical skills that can also be expressed orally. The modified Socratic method in law school, although hard, is a necessary means in order to hone the future practitioners of the law.

Yes, the method may not be for everyone, but it is imperative that law students also learn to deal with the same. Because of the current trend of the law profession in being dynamic and ever-changing, law students should also be trained in adapting to such means and being able to analyze these situations by correlating everything—the same of course is one of the founding pillars of the Socratic method of recitation.

May this list serve as good set of tips to all aspiring lawyers out there. To everyone reading this short article, we wish you all the best in your venture and looking forward to seeing you all soon, future paneros and paneras!

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