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How do I speed-read cases in law school?

In law school, there are so many important things to do (outlining, memorizing the law, taking practice exams, etc.) that if you want to do well, you probably shouldn’t read every word of every case. However, you also don’t want to ignore cases. If you don’t pay attention to the assigned cases, you will have difficulty following along in class, you could easily embarrass yourself when called on, and you will likely feel frustrated and confused!

So, your goal should be to pay the appropriate attention to law school cases. Don’t spend hours a day on them, but don’t completely ignore them either.

How do I speed-read cases in law school?

You should have a few objectives when you read law school cases. Your objectives should be to know the cases well enough so that:

  • You can follow along in class.
  • You can provide a meaningful response if called on.
  • You understand the main point of the case.

If you accomplish these goals, then you should be all set. Hardly any professors test on the details of cases. And, most professors will not ever ask you to recite a case name! (Exceptions include foundational legal cases—but there may be only 5–7 of these per class!)

Thus, focus on getting the gist of the law school cases assigned so that you can best follow along in class and understand the main points of the case. You can accomplish these goals while spending a fraction of time actually reading law school cases if you follow the method below.

How to speed-read cases in law school

1. Review your syllabus or table of contents

This is key and it is the first step you should take before reading the case. Look in your syllabus or table of contents so you can see how the case fits in the bigger picture. For example, your syllabus or table of contents may look like this:

  1. Defenses to Contract Enforcement
    • A. Statute of Frauds
      • What is a “signature”
        • Thomas v. Smith 
        • Jones v. Janes 

Once you see where a case fits in the bigger picture, the point you should be looking out for will be much more obvious. After all, if you are looking for a point about what constitutes a signature for Statute of Frauds purposes, this really narrows down the facts you need to pay attention to. You can read past all the fluff.

2. Read a case brief

If possible, get a copy of the Casenote Legal Briefs keyed to your casebook. This is so convenient to have on hand because the Casenote Legal Briefs will be in the order of your casebook and not contain any extraneous information. As an alternative, Google it!

A case brief will take very little time to read and it will summarize all the important points such as:

  • The issue that the court is resolving
  • The rule of law
  • The court’s analysis
  • The holding

This will provide you with everything you need to look for in the case. In fact, some students do not even go on to read the case after reviewing a case brief! We recommend that you take the extra step of reviewing the case.

3. Book brief your case

The last step is to book brief your case. Thus, you should quickly go through your case and note where the issue, rule, analysis, and holding are. This is especially important if you fear being called on! It does not take long to quickly book brief a case after you already have a great primer of what the case is about!


What NOT to do

The following are a few things to keep in mind when trying to speed-read cases in law school:

1. Read a case the day you cover it in class (or the night before). 

Some students get in the bad habit of prereading cases over the weekend. The problem with prereading cases is that, with the amount of cases you are assigned, you will likely forget the case by the time you get to class!

It is a much better idea to read the cases as close to class as possible. So, read the assigned cases the day before class or even the day of class. Remember, you are speed-reading, so it should be a relatively quick process!

2. Don’t get hung up on every vocabulary word, procedural history, etc. 

You do not have to look up every word you don’t know. There some archaic words you will never see again in cases and they are not worth your time and energy to investigate. If you get the gist of the case, that is enough. By the same token, unless you are in a procedural class (like Civil Procedure), the procedural portion of the case—e.g., what happened in the lower courts—is almost always irrelevant. Yes, it may be talked about in class, but it will not matter for exam purposes.

3. Don’t brief cases separately! 

You should not brief every case you read. This is the exact opposite of speed-reading. In fact, you will be adding to your workload with very little benefit to your GPA! While some students find it helpful to brief cases in the very beginning, make a choice to switch to book briefing (as explained above) as soon as possible.

4. Be patient with yourself. 

You are learning a new legal language! It might not come super quickly. Understand that this is a new undertaking and it might be difficult at times!

5. Limit the time you spend reading cases.

If you tend to find yourself spending a large part of your day reading cases, make it a point to limit the time you spend reading cases. For example, you may limit it to one hour a day, five days a week. This is perfectly reasonable, as you need to dedicate the larger part of your time outlining, learning your outlines, and studying for your final exams. These are the activities that will truly lead to a boost in GPA—not reading cases!

Go to the next topic, Why is it so important to go to class in law school (and pay attention!)?


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