As you may have already discovered, your speed-reading abilities may not carry over as much as you would like in law school. You must now carefully and critically analyze, question and reason every paragraph, sentence and word. Here’s how to get the most out of your preparation for class and your reading of assigned cases.
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 stay with you.
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 it into your class notes. Rather than 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 practice. And once you know the art of case briefing, you’re likely not forget it. You don’t need to commit yourself to briefing every case in every class throughout law school. It’s better to commit yourself to briefing cases until you’re good at it, which for most students means throughout 1L year. Learn more about law school case briefs.