Now that you’re a few weeks into law school, you’re probably wondering one thing — Do you really have to read the cases?
Let’s face it, reading cases is time-consuming and not necessarily all that exciting. Sometimes rumors circulate that all you really need is a good outline, or the right supplement or set of canned briefs, and you can ace your exams without doing any of the reading. Is this true?
Sadly, probably not.
While I’m not going to argue that everything you need to know is in the cases (your law professor might tell you this, but it’s not generally true), there are very good reasons to read the cases, particularly your first semester.
Why Should 1Ls Read the Cases?
Here are four reasons to prioritize the reading in the early days of law school:
- If you don’t read the cases in the beginning, you’ll never get any faster. Most 1Ls take a fairly light load first semester. Three classes + legal writing is pretty standard (compared to four, or even five, classes per semester later). You’re taking fewer classes to give you time to get accustomed to law school, and a big part of this process is learning to read a case efficiently. Yes, reading cases initially takes forever. But — as you improve your skills — you’ll get faster. If you skip the reading first semester, you won’t develop the efficiency you need to keep up with a heavier reading load later.
- You’ll learn a lot by osmosis. I recently argued that the first semester of law school is like being immersed in a foreign language and culture. Just like you’ll learn a lot of Spanish simply by sitting in a cafe in Madrid, you’ll learn a lot of legal “culture” by reading cases. How are arguments structured? What words are used in different situations? Even if you don’t understand everything you read, you’re absorbing the structure and rhythm of legal arguments. Where does this come in handy? When you have to structure a legal argument yourself — on an exam!
- It allows you to relax a bit more in class. New law students sometimes go overboard with their class prep. (Hint: If you’ve got 10 pages of reading notes for 10 pages of reading, that’s too much.) Your job is to make a good-faith effort to read and understand the material before class. If you don’t do the reading, you’re not making that good-faith effort. The result? You spend most of class stressed out and worried about being called on. At least for me, avoiding the guilt and anxiety of being called on when I hadn’t done the reading was a strong motivator! It was easier just to do it and know that I’d made the necessary effort. That way, even if I said something wrong, I could feel confident that I’d made a valiant effort. And, really, that’s all anyone can ask of you (or you can ask of yourself). Perfection isn’t required, but a good-faith attempt is.
- It builds character. This might be an antiquated notion, but doing the work you’re assigned in law school shows that you’re becoming a responsible professional. Do lots of lawyers cut corners? Sure, and most of them are lousy lawyers. If you want to be a well-respected lawyer, start building your reputation now (even if it’s only in your own head). Would you show up to court unprepared? I hope not! So don’t show up to class unprepared. You’re building habits now that you’ll carry throughout your legal career. Make sure they’re good ones!
Are you convinced? Share your thoughts in the comments! You can leave questions, too, and we’ll answer them for you.
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Not sure what you should be focusing on? Lots of new law students have questions about what exactly they should be spending time on.