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What are “cases” in law school?

Some students wonder what “cases” are in law school.

In law school, the vast majority of your homework each night during your first year (with the exception of any legal writing class homework), will consist of reading cases.

Your casebook will likely have a variety of different cases in it. Most of these cases will merely be excerpts—that is, you will not read the full opinion, just a sample. These vary from one page to five pages, on average. Some might be even shorter (just a few sentences) whereas others can be even longer.

A note on the types of cases you might see

  • Some cases are in your casebook because they are famous and groundbreaking—i.e., important rules of law came from them.
  • Some cases are in your casebook because they are new and modern.
  • Some cases are in your casebook to exemplify a judge’s reasoning or rationale for applying a particular rule.

Many of the cases you are assigned may be old and archaic, with difficult vocabulary, whereas others will be easier to read with more modern language.

Want to look inside a law school casebook? 

If you are curious to see what a law school casebook looks like on the inside, check out this Constitutional Law book on Amazon. You can click on it and see:

  • The table of contents
  • Examples of cases (for example, Marbury v. Madison, a foundational Constitutional Law case, is at the very beginning of the casebook)
  • How the casebook is organized

How long will I spend reading cases in law school? 

Many professors assign between 20 and 50 pages of reading for each class period, depending on the professor and the day. Some students spend most of their first year of law school reading cases. We recommend focusing on outlining, learning the law, and taking practice exams. This is not to say you should ignore cases, but instead, you should aim to speed-read them.

How do I save money on law school casebooks? 

If you purchase new casebooks, you will spend a lot of money on casebooks! We recommend doing the following:

  • See if you can purchase casebooks used online or at your law school bookstore.
  • See if there are electronic casebooks available for a more affordable price (if you do not mind reading cases electronically!).
  • ask upper-level students if you can borrow or buy law school casebooks from them.

Note: As soon as your semester is over, you should sell your casebooks! You will not need them again and they will depreciate in value as new editions come out. So, make some money or help other fellow students out by selling your casebooks or letting students borrow them!

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