As you may have already discovered, your speed-reading abilities won’t help you as much as you think in law school. As you spend hours each night preparing for class, you need to know how to read – really read – the assigned cases. You must now carefully and critically analyze, question and reason every paragraph, sentence and word.
1) Use a “road map” for reading assignments
It’s always a good idea to know where you’re going. Before you start reading the assigned cases, look at the chapter headings and the table of contents in the casebook. These will tell you the topic to which the assigned cases relate and where this topic fits in the overall course.
2) Keep a good law dictionary on hand
When a word you don’t understand is used, or when a word is used in some unusual sense, stop immediately and look it up. You’ll be spinning your wheels mentally until you absorb the correct meaning. A good way of making sure you remember the meanings of legal terms is to use them in your case briefs (and outlines). You’ll better recall the context in which you used the word and its meaning will sink in.
3) Create a briefing system
Briefing cases is indispensable in “learning to think like a lawyer.” Once mastered, you’ll be able to distill the facts and reasoning of a case down to manageable size. The use of a briefing system will force you to dissect a case sufficiently for analytic purposes. Try a format of breaking down the essential elements: Facts, Trial Court decision, Issues, Rules, and Rationale.
4) Keep your briefs brief
The sole purpose of a brief is to help you recall the case in sufficient detail to discuss during class and to integrate into your class notes. Don’t attempt a detailed restatement of the entire case. Simply try to capture the gist of the facts and the court’s reasoning in as few words as possible.
Learning how to brief cases is something you can master with reasonable practice and, once you know it, you’re likely not to forget. You don’t need to commit yourself to briefing every case in every class throughout law school – you simply must commit yourself to briefing cases until you’re good at it, which for most students means throughout 1L year. Click here to learn more about law school case briefs.