Its my third week of law school now. I have ditched my comfortable apartment, along with the local coffee shop and am taking up permanent residence in the dreaded library. It’s disturbing because it’s so quite here.
Anyway, there is so much to share from the past two weeks have been an immense learning curve (steep as Half Dome). One thing that I have come to realize is that the case briefs are the most important weapon in your law school arsenal for success.
I have slacked on properly briefing my cases, but, regardless, when viewed from the “law school big picture” perspective, makes complete sense to brief your cases independently from the beginning. If you are not in law school, then start thinking like briefing your notes for whatever subject you are studying. Briefing your cases is not just about the case you are reading, its a total system of attacking the law school reading you are doing.
During orientation week they tell you and teach you all sorts of stuff. I can say safely that most of the things they advised me on, I have thrown by the wayside. They said “supplements are like crack”- yes, supplements, or commercial outlines, hornbooks etc. are like crack, they allow you to survive the madness that is law school and should be used in moderation, also you need to KNOW HOW TO USE THEM TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. Supplements can help you or hurt you, short term or in the long term. (I will leave the elaboration for another blog post) Another thing they show you how to do is do your case briefs. Learn how to do the brief the way they teach you, but ditch it after the first week of trying it and do it the following way:
- Look at the reading assignment for your class, jot down all the cases and the minor cases mentioned in the text. Also jot down the major themes or issues that the text is addressing. If you are so miserably lost that you have no clue where to feasibly find this information out, let me let you in on a secret- read the table of contexts, read the titles and look for words that are repetitive; this will give you a good grounding on what subject are, or substantive issue, the reading is addressing.
- Hit up your supplements. I got commercial outlines keyed to my textbooks and I also got further explanations on the substantive issues for my classes. Take your cases and issues and match them up in the supplemental books. I will sit down and read the explanations book first to get direction for the legal issues I am supposed to be understanding. While I read this, I highlight and write in the margins the things that relate back to what I have on my jotted down notes. I then hit the commercial outline and read the cases that we will be going over in class. I don’t highlight or write in these at all, I focus on just reading through the case briefs provided in the commercial outline. (Don’t have supplements, not to worry, see below for a quick fix.)
- I hit the books, I read over the assigned reading, I work in my case briefing into the book, I take my notes in the book as well. BUT LISTEN, DO THIS FIRST: skim to the Problems and Notes, or Notes and Questions section, you will find this after each significant case. Read through that first. Most likely you will find the most important facts and reasoning of the court highlighted there, you will find the rules or facts that change up the courts decision etc. Reading that first can be a better compass on what your reading if you do not have supplements. Once you finish this (and highlight, note as you see fit) read your cases, one at a time, just read first, then go back and read for issue, holding, reasoning, facts etc.
- Use a color coding briefing process- which technically in the short term will keep you from having to do individual case briefing- but will not prevent you from having to do the case briefing at some point before you midterm or final. I have a system where I use 5 highlighters that identify the various parts of the case brief. I go through reading the case a second time looking and identifying those various parts of the case brief. After a while you book is going to look like a rainbow, but better a neon rainbow you can refer back to in class while your half asleep then to stare down at the book while your professors eyes glare down at you and you can’t make sense of anything on the page or recollect anything you read at 3AM in the morning. Here at least you will know when you look down at your book, GREEN is the procedural posture- and respond as such.
- After class or better yet before class, you should write-up your case briefs. Make sure you make marks or take notes on the things our professor points out and incorporate those into your case briefs. With the volume of information being so intense, this little service the professor provides can save you from having to shift through thousands of paragraphs worth of information trying to figure out the black letter rule, facts and reasoning to apply on your midterm or final. (this part I need to work on)