One of the most frequent questions that we get from first year students is “Do I have to read all the cases?” The next most frequent question is usually “Do I really have to read all the cases?” The answer, of course, is “yes” and “yes”. Aside from the fact that the only way you can truly understand a subject is by doing all of the readings, there are several good reasons to read cases.
- You will enjoy your subjects more – If you don’t at least skim your readings before class, you won’t be able to take an active part in the subject. Doing your readings is critical to understanding what is going on in your seminars.
- The judgments demonstrate legal reasoning – the judges typically use some form of IRAC; they identify the legal issues raised in a case, describe the relevant law, apply the law to the new set of facts to come to a conclusion. Reading cases to understand the methodology as well as the reasons for the decision will help to train you in the approach.
- You will be better prepared for exams – It is possible to get a general understanding of a case purely by going to lectures or reading a summary in a case book. When it comes to recalling a case, however, the amount of time that you spend working on it is directly proportional to the detail with which you can recall it. Not only will reading cases make it far easier for you to remember the reasoning under pressure, it will better enable you to understand and apply the cases when answering hypothetical problems or essays.
- It is a life skill – If you are interested in pursuing a legal career at all, you will be required to read cases constantly. Lawyers must not only do extensive research into matters for their clients, but also keep abreast of significant developments in their practice areas. Law school readings teach you this crucial skill in a safe learning environment – take advantage of it.
Finally, reading cases is a skill that becomes easier and more enjoyable the more you do it. You will not only learn to read them exponentially faster as law school progresses; you will begin to enjoy and understand them better. The only way to develop this skill is to practice it.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help with the process.
- Nick McBride, Letters to a Law Student, excerpt available here.
- Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading like a lawyer : time-saving strategies for reading law like an expert