"Thinking like lawyers" in the online environment : students' and faculty members' perceptions of using the Socratic method in an online J.D. course

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


School of Education and Health Sciences


Charles Russo


With the American Bar Association’s recent move to a more liberal stance on distance learning and the newly gained experience with online education for all law students and legal educators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that online legal education, in some form, is here to stay. Additionally, there is no indication that the Socratic method with its strong ties to legal education will be abandoned. Therefore, the legal academy must address how it can continue to use the Socratic method as its preferred pedagogical tool to teach students “to think like lawyers” in online modalities. This mixed methods phenomenological case study explored the perceptions of faculty members and traditional first-semester law students regarding the use of the Socratic method in an online J.D. course. The study used the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework as a lens through which to assess the students’ perceptions of the course. The study involved the CoI survey, interviews with students and the faculty members involved in the course, and observations of the Socratic method in the synchronous Zoom sessions and the use of a simulated Socratic dialogue in the asynchronous modules in the course. The findings were supported by the research concerning online learning and the Socratic method and added insights into this group of traditional first-semester law students, who began their legal education online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, results from this study demonstrate that the Socratic method continues to be the expected pedagogy in law school doctrinal classes by both faculty and students; the Socratic method employed in the synchronous Zoom classes were similar to the traditional Socratic method used in face-to face classes with its inherent benefits and drawbacks; that the asynchronous use of the Socratic method addressed some of those drawbacks; and that the CoI framework supported the findings regarding the Socratic method.


Socratic method; legal education; online legal education; Community of Inquiry

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