For all those law, pre-law, “I’m doing one law class this semester send help" students?
This one’s for you.
- Speed Reading
- Predominantly case law driven areas (c.f. textbook guided)
- Common Law Jurisdiction (though easily applicable to Civil Law)
- Anyone who is staring down the barrel of a fuckton of reading
Next topic: getting through readings
A GUIDE TO READING CASES
Ask yourself - What the fuck do I need this case for?
- Legal Principle: The case establishes the authoritative principle in the area
- Facts: The case illustrates the factual application of a legal principle/ example of unique application/ distinguishable
- Precedent/ Historic: important in development of legal principle.
- Specific Judge: majority vs. dissent, subsequent interpretation + application
What does the headnote say?
- Headnotes work like handy summaries to guide you through the cesspool of text
- Usually will include: Legal Principle, Key Facts, Split (see below), Paragraph Numbers/ Page Numbers to key passages
- + (when you’re in a rush and cbf sometimes the headnote is enough to give you a sense of what was decided in the case!)
What is the ratio?
Yeah this sounds like a fucking legal studies 101, but seriously look for the ratio. There’s nothing worse than getting to the final page and finding out that you were reading the dissenting judgment when you didn’t need to!
- Start with the headnote. The headnote will tell you who agreed with who, and on what legal question. Remember a judge in the majority may choose to dissent on one aspect of the judgment yet agree on others. Same with dissenting judges.
- Compare. May be useful to compare and contrast the dissent with the majority (esp. if the dissent has been commented on in later cases)
Scan through the judgment
- Headings: Look for specific headings (if any! We all know of some judges who are allergic to headings)
- Start from the conclusion/ end of the judgment
- Use the paragraphs in the headnote
- Ctrl+F is your best friend
Writing Case Notes
- Keywords, summarise, judges (spelt correctly!)
- Its rare that you’ll need to copy and paste a direct quote (or lord forbid a paragraph) into your exam notes.
- Organise by element
- Remember - what was the purpose of reading this case?!?! What did it illustrate? Why should I include it in my notes?