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The Case For Reading Cases in Law School, With A Twist

It's a common mistake to think that reading cases is a waste of time. It's important, but there's a better way to do it.

Some law students, particularly 1Ls, read cases diligently. Others soon skip reading cases almost entirely and just review online case briefs or commercial outlines. Neither is a good strategy.

The value of reading cases is that it gives you a window into a judge’s way of thinking and analyzing the law. The value of a commercial outline or case brief is it gives you a quick synopsis of the facts and what the judge decided, but often neglects to tell you the “why” or “how” of the decision, i.e., the legal analysis.

Though you will never get out as much from outlines or case briefs as you will from actually engaging with the material, commercial outlines and case briefs can be helpful to review before you read an opinion and brief the case yourself.

The best way to read a case is to review what a commercial outline says before you read the case. This gives you a better understanding of the basic facts and, more importantly, helps you understand why your professor wants you to read this case. Knowing that alone gives you a big advantage when it comes to reading the actual case.

After you've gotten a big-picture view of the case from an outline, you should still read the case, word for word. Mark it up as much as you can.

In case you need more persuading, here are 3 reasons for why you should read cases:

1) They help you learn legalese
The more you read cases, the more fluent you will become in the language of the law. If you don’t read cases, you’ll also end up struggling with legal research and writing well beyond law school.

2) They teach you how courts function
As you read more cases you’ll gain a better understanding of the roles of trial and appellate courts and how they relate to one another. The judicial system is complicated, so diving into these court cases will give you a deeper understanding of its complexity.

3) They prepare you to be a successful lawyer.
When you get out into the real world after law school, chances are you’ll be reading plenty of cases as an attorney. Honing these skills now will pay dividends down the road.
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