Professorial Style in Context

Socratic style of teaching. summarizes the discourse profiles. These
quantitative profiles include the total percentage of time taken by professor, indi-
vidual students, and the class as a whole. They also break down the percentage of
classroom discussion (in terms of both time and turns) spent in lecture (mono-
logue), more lengthy (“focused”) Socratic-style dialogue, and other kinds of
The classes are ordered  in terms of their location in the status
hierarchy often employed in distinguishing among law schools.40 Classes #2, #8,
and #5 are in law schools ranked in the elite or prestige categories. Classes #4 and
#7 are in schools that would be described as regional. And Classes #1, #6, and #3
are in local law schools, including one night school class.
We can see immediately that there is no one-to-one correlation between school
status and use of more Socratic styles of teaching; the three most Socratic class-
rooms (#5, #4, #1) are in an elite/prestige, a regional, and a local law school, re-
spectively, thus, spanning the entire status hierarchy. These three professors do have
something in common, however; they are all white male teachers who were trained
at elite law schools. They differ in other respects; in terms of teaching experience,
one had been teaching 16 to 20 years at the time of the study, another 11 to 15
years, and a third from 1 to 5 years. This last teacher was also younger than the
other two (31–35 years old as opposed to 46–50 years old).41 Thus, the category of
modified Socratic teachers includes our youngest and least experienced professor
as well as our oldest and most experienced. In the middle range, with 28% and 29%
of time spent in extended dialogue, were the two professors of color in the study,
who both had been trained at elite/prestige law schools and were teaching in elite/
prestige law schools. Included in the lowest Socratic range, using only 21% to 24%
of class time for extended dialogue, were two white female professors who had
trained in local or regional law schools and were teaching in local law schools. One
of these, Class #6, was the most egalitarian classroom in the study in terms of par-
ticipation patterns. Finally, at the lowest end of the extended-dialogue range was
Class #7 (with predominantly lecture); this white male professor had trained at a
regional law school and was teaching in a regional law school.
We cannot draw any broad conclusions from so small a sample. But we can
pause to note a similarity between the hint of a pattern found among these teach-
ers and that noted by Conley and O’Barr in their (similarly small) sample of small
claims court judges.42 In that study, the authors identified two distinct kinds of
“voices,” one focused on rules and the other on relationships. These voices were
correlated with distinct speech styles (“powerful” versus “powerless”) and differ-
ing ideological understandings of the law (law as “limitation” versus “enablement”).
Interestingly, the judges who most closely followed the rule-based, formalist ap-
proaches (“authoritative decisionmakers” and “proceduralists”) were all white men
with formal legal training. On the other hand, the judges who used the most rela-
tional, flexible approaches (“mediators” and “lawmakers”) were all women (one
African American, the others European American). There was also a category of
“strict adherents,” who saw the law as beyond their control and simply attempted
to apply it strictly (in this category were an African American man and a European
American woman).

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