Asking Good Questions in Law School

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One skill that law students should develop is the ability to ask good questions. I’m talking about “big” questions here, not questions about small details of the cases that you’ve read. There are going to be many times in law school where you don’t understand something that you read or that was addressed in class. As a law student, you want to develop the ability to ask good questions.

Asking good questions is a way to give your professors the tools that they need to help you understand the law better. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Most law students start their Civil Procedure course by learning about personal jurisdiction. In the first few several weeks of the course, you will read multiple cases about personal jurisdiction, and your professor will use numerous hypotheticals to expand your understanding of that legal issue. It doesn’t help you or your professor if you raise your hand in class, or go to his office during office hours, and say, “I don’t understand personal jurisdiction. Can you explain it again?” It would take a really long time for your professor to reteach several weeks of material to you a second time, and it is probably just a part of the issue that you don’t understand, not the entire subject.

Your questions (and your professor’s answers) will be more helpful if you do some preliminary work first. Here are two important tips for developing good questions:

(1) If you don’t understand a particular legal issue that you are studying, trying to reason your way through it first. Reread your case brief and class notes, and even go back to the cases and read the relevant parts.

(2) Take the time to figure out what you do know, and then ask yourself, “What do I actually not know?” Maybe a particular legal test has four elements. You determine that you actually do understand elements 1, 3, and 4, and it is just element 2 that is giving you problems. By narrowing down what you don’t understand about the issue, you will be able to craft good questions.

If you take the time to do a little advance work and tailor narrow questions, you will give your professor the tools he or she needs to be able to help you.

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