How and Why To Spend Less Time Reading Cases in Law School
We are writing this on labor day weekend. Our goal is to help you maximize your efficiency so that you can enjoy your weekend rather than spend all weekend reading cases!
In this post, we’re going to talk about why you should spend less time reading cases in law school as well as how to spend less time reading cases. Our goal is to help you maximize your efficiency, focus on studying for the final exams, and still have time to have a life!
Why You Should Spend Less Time Reading Cases in Law School
Law school final exams generally test two things primarily:
- (1) How well you know the law; and,
- (2) If you can apply it to the kind of fact patterns that you will see on your final exams.
How do you learn the law? By outlining and reviewing your outlines throughout the semester.
How do you get good at applying the law to fact patterns you see on your final exam? By finding a good exam-answering strategy (many students start with methods such as IRAC) then practicing that strategy. (We have a more detailed free guide on how to excel on law school exams here if you are interested in what to do over the semester to prepare for the final exam.)
What you will notice is that case-reading appears nowhere on that list! Yes, cases reveal legal rules that you may be tested on − but you certainly do not need to spend hours reading cases in order to extract the rule when there are so many other (less time-consuming) ways to get those rules — like by going to class and paying attention to what your professor says the rule is, by looking up case briefs and seeing what the rule is, by skimming the cases and focusing on the rule.
Many students worry that if they don’t carefully read cases, the following three things will happen:
- (1) Students worry that they won’t be able to follow the class discussion.
- (2) Students worry that they will be called on and won’t know what to say.
- (3) Students worry that they will not get a high grade on their final exams since everyone else seems to obsess over cases!
As for the first two points, note that we give you six ways to spend less time on the cases below. These are shortcuts that will still ensure you are able to follow the class discussion and that you will be prepared enough when you are called on.
As for the third point, it should be encouraging that you are not doing the same thing everyone else is doing − after all, if you do the same things everyone else does, you will get the same grades everyone else gets (which will not put you in the top of your class!).
As a final note: If you know you will be called on, or if you strongly suspect it (e.g.your professor calls on students in alphabetical order or just goes down the row – and you are coming up) then it is a good idea to read cases closely for those classes and focus on the kinds of questions your professor likes to ask. (For a full list of Socratic Method tips, see this post). But for your other classes, make it your goal to minimize your time on cases so you can maximize your score on the final exam.
How to spend less time reading cases in law school
1. Invest in Casenote Legal Briefs.
Casenote legal briefs is a series of legal briefs that are keyed to your casebook. (Make sure you get the book that is keyed to your casebook – not a random book — or you’ll make the same mistake I did my 1L year of law school). Before you read the cases assigned, read the legal briefs, then just skim the cases you are assigned (and maybe make notes to yourself about where the facts section is, the arguments by the plaintiff, arguments by the defendant, holding, rule of law, etc.).
It sounds counterintuitive because you will be reading two things instead of one thing every night, but it will actually make your casebook reading go by much faster. Further, by looking at both (and taking brief notes in your casebook) you will be well-prepared to follow class discussion, and well-prepared if you are called on.
2. Google it.
If you are reading Marbury v. Madison, for example, just google, “Marbury v Madison case brief.” You should be able to find case briefs for most of your cases. The one problem with googling cases it that you might not be picking out the exact issues highlighted in the excerpt of the case found in your case book. Most casebooks only include excerpts of a case to make one specific point – and you could miss this specific point (or take away a different point) if you google it. However, Google is still a nice way to get an idea of what the case is about and then simply skim the case, as discussed above.
3. Get a hold of class notes from someone who had your same professor.
Good class notes should show you ahead of time what the professor thinks is important. If someone took very detailed class notes, you can use them to prepare for class in case you are called on and not worry so much about the details in a case.
4. Don’t “pre-read” for all of your classes on the weekend.
Law students who try to do this quickly realize that it is not a winning strategy and that it does not, in fact, save time. By the time you get to your Friday class (or even your Tuesday class, for that matter!) you will forget what you read! Instead of pre-reading, read the night before your class or the morning of your class instead. This will maximize your ability to follow along in class and answer questions if you are called on. It will also save you time because you won’t have to look at the same case twice.
5. Limit the time you spend reading cases.
Law students are shocked when I tell them that I used to limit case-reading to an hour a day. But you really cannot justify spending much more than that! If you work on your outlines every day, review your outlines every day, complete practice problems to ensure you understand the material, and stay on top of your legal writing and research assignments, you simply cannot justify spending much more than an hour or so a day on cases. Set a timer and make yourself stand by this limitation. In the beginning of the semester, you may need to spend more time on cases as you get used to the legal vocabulary and way of approaching a case. However, it is a good idea to eventually limit the time you spend on cases.
6. Don’t brief cases.
It is fine to brief cases occasionally at the beginning of law school as you are getting used to reading. But, briefing cases takes a lot of time, and ultimately, it does not prepare you for the final exam nearly as much as outlining, learning your outlines, and completing practice problems. We recommend that you get out of the habit of writing case briefs. (As an alternative, you can “book brief’ the cases, simply by listing “Procedural History” “Facts” “Issue” “Rule” “Holding” etc. in your case book next to where those appear in the case.)
Note that reading cases does have benefits. Case-reading is helpful in that it helps you learn legal vocabulary, learn to think like a lawyer, and form arguments. However, it certainly does not help you on the final exam so if your goal is to get high grades on your final exams, you cannot focus all of your time on cases.
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