The Infamous Cold Call: Should You Be Terrified?

In law school, the primary method of teaching, at least in larger classes and especially during the first year, is referred to as the Socratic method. A professor will call on and question a student (usually at random) about the day’s assigned reading, typically a judge’s written decision or case. You’re asked what happened to cause the dispute, what position the opposing sides took and argued, and how the court reasoned through the issue. This happens in front of the eighty or so other students in class.  Public speaking consistently ranks among our greatest fears. The cold call in law school has you speaking in public without much preparation because you cannot know exactly what question will be put to you.

I didn’t know cold calling was a thing in law school until family and friends started asking me if I was nervous about it. I did some research and became terrified – and while it’s normal to feel that way, let me tell you why it might not be justified.

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The Case of the Drunken Sailor

One night in the 1960’s, a Coast Guard sailor, whose ship was in port for repairs, came stumbling back to the vessel in, to use the words of the judge, “the condition for which seamen are famed.” His ship was in a dry-dock, a floating tub of water which is drained once the ship is inside so that repairs to the hull can be made. The sailor, buoyed by drink, tried his hand at the dry-dock control wheels, letting in water which eventually caused the boat and dry-dock to partially sink. The dry-dock owners sued the government for the money damages the sailor’s actions caused, and the government eventually had to foot the bill. Continue reading