michigan bar examIn this post, we tell you not only how to read a law school case, but also how to “speed read” it. That is, how to read a case quickly and efficiently so that you are getting everything you need to get out of it without spending all of your time on cases. 

How to Read a Law School Case:

1. Understand Why You Are Reading the Law School Case

                  While it may be tempting to jump right into the material, it is important to first understand why you are reading the assigned case.  Reviewing the table of contents or your professor’s syllabus should be your first step in reading a case.  This will help you to understand how each case fits into the larger picture and what you should take away from the case.

Example:

  1. Intentionally Inflicted Harms
    1. Emotional and Dignitary Harms
      1. Assault
        1. de S. and Wife v. W. de S.
        2. Tuberville v. Savage
      2. Offensive Battery
        1. Alcorn v. Mitchell

A quick, 30-second review of the Table of Contents will teach a student that the purpose of Tuberville v Savage is the understand the Intentional Tort of Assault.

2. Read a Case Brief

Case briefs can quickly help students to understand the “IRAC” (Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion) in every case, which—for longer cases and/or cases with convoluted language especially—can dramatically cut down on your reading time while simultaneously increasing your comprehension.  Case briefs specifically keyed to your textbook are available for sale, or students can generally find free case briefs on the Internet.

Example of a Case Brief:

Tuberville v Savage

Issue: Did Defendant assault Plaintiff?

Rule: An Assault requires an intent and an act

Analysis: Defendant did not commit an assault because he did not have the requisite intent.  While he placed his hand on his sword (an act), he plainly stated that he would not harm plaintiff.

Conclusion: No, Defendant did not intend an assault against Plaintiff.  Therefore, the elements of assault are not satisfied, and Defendant cannot be found guilty of assault against Plaintiff.

Reviewing a case brief ensures that you are spotting the proper IRAC in each case.

3. Quickly Read the case

Now that you have a solid foundation—i.e., you understand why you are reading the case and can easily identify the IRAC—that is,  the relevant parts.

Example:

Tuberville v Savage, 86 Eng Rep 684 (KB 1669)

 Action of assault, battery, and wounding.  The evidence to prove a provocation was, that the plaintiff put his hand upon his sword and said, “If it were not assize-time, I would not take such language from you.”—The questions was, if that were an assault?—The Court agreed that it was not; for the declaration of the plaintiff was, that he would not assault him, the judges being in town; and the intention as well as the act makes an assault.  Therefore if one strike another upon the hand, or arm, or breast in discourse, it is no assault, there being no intention to assault; but if one intending to assault, strike at another and miss him, this is an assault: so if he hold up his hand against another in a threatening manner and say nothing, it is an assault.  –In the principal case the plaintiff had judgment.

In the above example, the Issue is in green font, the rule is in orange font, the application/reasoning is in pink, and the conclusion is in blue. This is a briefing method called “book briefing,” and it is helpful for this demonstration.  However, we recommend taking very brief notes in the margins of your pages (e.g., write I for Issue in the margin next to the issue), as opposed to memorizing and switching highlighters or taking lengthy notes on cases to prepare for class. 

Other Important Tips for Reading Law School Cases:

  • Remember, learning to how to read a law school case is a skill that takes time and practice. Do not get discouraged if the cases are not as intuitive as your undergraduate reading.  If reading cases were easy, lawyers wouldn’t need law school!
  • Read Quickly. While understanding how to read a case is a skill all lawyers need to acquire, case reading should not be the focus of your study. The purpose of our case reading method is to teach you to quickly read a case, so you can free up more time for reviewing, outlining, and practicing for your exams.
  • Do not get hung up on the details. The general purpose of your assigned cases is to teach students the current state of the majority law and to help students understand the reasoning behind the law.  Therefore, do not fall into the common trap of letting the minutia confuse you.  Instead, focus on the bigger picture and how your cases fit together to form the current law.

JD Advising
This post was written by JD Advising associate, Tish Browning, who is a law school tutor and bar exam tutor who graduated order of the coif from Wayne State University Law School. Tish has received glowing reviews from our students and has helped several students succeed in law school, on the MPRE, and on the bar exam.