Law School Survival Guide: Cold Calling


For those of you who didn’t go to law school (bravo on your life choices), cold calling is when a professor choses a student at random and grills him over some random aspect of the assigned reading (because law students aren’t quite paranoid and anxious enough already). If law school has taught me anything, it’s that public humiliation is an incredibly effective method of educational motivation — like medieval stocks or public flogging.

Not to worry my dear jurist friends, I have compiled a guaranteed guide to surviving any cold calling scenario [note that the term “guaranteed” is used for satirical purposes and I am in no way responsible for any and all disastrous outcomes resulting from the following list].

0. Before you get cold called

Enthusiastically raise your hand, and spring your own philosophical ideas off of the previous answer from the gunner who actually read the case. This will give the allusion that you are prepared and actively engaged in the class discussion. No one needs to know that you stayed up drinking wine with your roommate after an emotion meltdown over your Evidence outline.

Ok, so you got cold called anyway…

1. Do you understand the question?

If yes: why are you here? Answer it. A smart gunner like you should have already figured this out. If no: keep reading.

2. Did you read?

If yes: throw out a few random facts of the case so your teacher knows you put forth some sort of a half-hearted effort. If he takes mercy on your novice soul, he’ll hesitantly move on with only minor signs of disappointment. If your professor is feeling particularly sadistic, keep reading. If no: keep reading.

3. Is your professor feeling particularly sadistic?

Really? He still hasn’t moved on? Now is the time to kick up your level of bullshit. Things are not looking good, but you have options. 

a. Own up

“I’m sorry professor, but I didn’t get to my reading last night.” He will either kick you out or move on. Either way, the humiliation is over, but you’re missing a prime opportunity to practice your sleazy lawyering skills. I suggest you keep bullshitting for the sake of a sound educational exercise. 

b. Play stupid

  • “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand…” I mean, you’ll look pretty dumb, but you’re a law student so you probably lost your dignity long ago.

c. Play into your Professor’s Political Beliefs

  • Liberal Professor: “I completely disagree with this opinion, because Scalia wrote it. And that’s what’s wrong with America!” 
  • Conservative Professor: “I completely agree with this opinion, because Scalia wrote it. And that’s what America is built on!” 

d. Argue some sort of worst case-scenario policy outcome

  • “If we let this person sue, it will inevitably FLOOD the courts with complaints and bring the entire legal system to its knees!” 

e. Talk really quietly and throw in a lot of legal jargon

  • “I’m of the opinion that a reasonable person wouldn’t find probable cause based on the totality of circumstances due to the suspect class of the victim and the circumstantial evidence surrounding the weight of the combined factors under strict scrutiny. In conclusion, hearsay.” That should do it. 

f.   Frantically flip through the pages of your book and don’t make eye contact

  • “Um… I know I read that somewhere…” Hope he takes pity on your sad effort before you read the entire chapter in shame.

g. Be vague 

  • “What’s that you say? Recite the facts of this case? Well, the plaintiff had an issue with the defendant and sued.” Nailed it. 

h. Say something really offensive so the professor moves on quickly to avoid a class     riot.

  • “I really identified with the murderer in this case, because I think abortion should be legal.” 

i. Cry.

4. Move on

Congratulations, you survived a humiliating cold call. Just remember that this is adequately preparing you for the real word, because your boss will probably call on you daily to recite the facts of random cases. 

5. But seriously…

If you bomb a cold call, it’s not the end of the world. You’re not stupid, and you will have plenty of chances for redemption. Be honest, be respectful, and try your best to add something to the class discussion. In reality, your professor is not purposefully seeking ways to embarrass you; he wants you to learn and understand the material. If you come prepared and actively engage, he is likely to cut you an appropriate level of slack.