It may be hard if your background is working in a law firm, or writing on your PhD, to go back in time: it might take you time to getting used to classes again. So, how does a typical class look like, here at Columbia?
The professor arrives – as I realize just now, so far, none has ever been late. He greets the class, and after some administrative remarks, the game begins. Typically, professors do not like to talk (well, there are exceptions). Rather, they limit themselves to introductory remarks, and then they ask questions. Questions, questions, questions. They make you think. They lead you to perspectives you have not yet thought about. They ask for your opinion. They challenge your opinion. So it is true, Law School in the US is very interactive. Of course, it varies from class to class. Some professors use “cold calls”, some expect everybody to voluntarily contribute and only threaten with “cold calls”, some say they do not do cold calls, but then ask you without warning. This interactive nature of class makes it necessary, or more fun, if you come prepared. For every class, professors assign readings. This comes not as surprise. Weeks before classes start, professors have distributed a syllabus, listing all readings. You are expected to have done the readings. In most of my classes the discussion relies on rather than discusses the readings. Hence, the readings are precondition to know what you will be talking about. Discussions can be sometimes really intense. First, because your fellow class mates are typically interesting and clever personalities, coming from all over the world, each and everyone thinking very differently. Second, because your fellow classmates are typically prepared. And third, because typically everyone in class has an inherent interest in the very subject matter and is eager to learn.
Sometimes, professors even invite external speakers to classes. Thus, it may happen that your argument in class may be countered with a mild smile and the answer: “This is an interesting thought, but actually, you know when we drafted this provision we were thinking that…” You may discuss with THE expert in the field… Just saying, New York may have magnetic effects…
Probably everyone has written in his letter of motivation that the inspiring community and the discussions with world-leading scholars is one of the main reasons for the interest in coming to Columbia. If you come here, you will see that this is not only a wish.
And if you are here: take advantage of it! Ask as many questions as you pay tuition! Speak up! Argue! Discuss! And go for a coffee or beer afterwards! That's why you are here!
For insights to the different course offerings, and what different types of courses (lectures, seminars, clinics, externships etc) are offered, just check out the Columbia Law website. The Law School provides a much more accurate and professional overview than I could give here.