The thing that scares many law students the most about going to class is the fear of being called on, with or without notice. 1Ls, especially, worry about cold calls. Why, though? Mainly because most students do not want to look foolish in front of their classmates/peers (I would argue that most people feel this way in general). However, you can survive as long as you strategize your approach and prepare diligently for class. Below are helpful tips and strategies to make it through the dreaded cold call:
Read the Assigned Materials/Cases
The best and most simple way to tackle cold calls is to actually prepare for the cold call. This means taking the time to read the assigned materials and cases. Make a good faith effort to make it through the cases. I mean, do this not only in preparation for cold calls, but also for your own general understanding and knowledge. The best way to prepare for being called on is to be familiar with the material and think about it. Professors typically know when a student actually has prepared (even if they are nervous) and when a student is just making it up as they go. Thus, it is crucial not only to your survival of cold calls but your survival of law school, READ THE CASE MATERIAL.
Know if You Are ‘On-Call’
Depending on your university and professor, you might have assigned days when you are ‘on call’ for cold calls. If this is the case, make sure you know what day that is. Professors are much less forgiving when you know you should prepare versus when you are just randomly cold-called.
Read Supplementary Materials
While you may not understand everything about the law (and you definitely are not expected to) there are ample amounts of resources available to help you. Supplementary materials are here to assist you in your understanding of the law. There are Restatements of Law in various topics, legal dictionaries, journals, and even just a simple search engine. If you really do not understand something, you can always talk to your professor in office hours or before class.
Look At Case Briefs
Did you know that LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg give you a summary of the case on their databases? Well, they discuss the overview of the case, the procedural posture, and the holding. Most of the databases talk about the ‘topics’ that the cases discuss before the meat of the case. These websites are helpful when you need a refresher or really want to solidly commit the important details of the case.
Professors know whether or not students prepare or know the material. If you are fumbling around and not clearly articulating your points, your hard preparation work might have gone to waste. Not only that, most of your classmates will know you are just ‘faking it until you make it.’ However, there is a difference between not preparing and being nervous. It can be nerve-wracking speaking about something you are just starting to understand in front of all of your classmates (I mean, who wants to mess up in front of your peers!). My advice is to stay confident! You prepared for a reason, and you will be just fine as long as you talk about what you know.
When in Doubt, Call Co-Counsel
You might not always be prepared for every question or hypo that a professor throws at you. You might not understand the question or this might be the fifth hypothetical the professor has given you, and you are sitting there trying to figure out what the professor wants. If you are lucky, the professor will allow you to call co-counsel. This means you look at another classmate and tag them in to the question. This does not mean you are off the hook, but you might be able to dodge a confusing question or two.
The first cold call is always the scariest. Until it happens to you personally, you will not fully know what to expect. If you stress, you will only get yourself worked up. Your professors are here to assist you in learning about the law. Yes, they know a lot more than you (it is their job!) but they are not going to judge you for not getting it perfect or answering a question precisely how they want. Just take a deep breath, look at your preparation notes, and answer the question to the best of your ability. Everyone in the class will be more focused on trying to understand the law rather than how well you know it. So, do not worry, you will succeed as long as you prepare!
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