If you’re lucky, the practice of law can be an exciting, challenging, creative, and fulfilling undertaking. On the other hand, the study of law can be so very boring. This is true particularly in the first year of law school, where it seems the older the case, the longer it takes to get to the point. It’s hard to imagine retaining information by any means other than osmosis because you can’t stop nodding off by the seventeenth “assumpsit.”
This was the dilemma my study group confronted as finals rounded the corner, and we were back in the land of Hull v. Orange, where they’re like, “Obviously, this is about quare vi et armis clausum fregit etc. et herban suam pedibus conculcando consumpsit.” Following this illuminating introduction, a lawyer named Catesby makes a series of points that conclude with a trailing, “No more here, therefore, etc…” Apparently he put himself to sleep. That’s when Fairfax gives Catesby the business about animo felonico vs. ipso invito, at which point Pigot mumbles something about his mill and water and the willows and then more water. Then a bunch more of them do that thing where they’re not really adding anything new to the conversation but just want to hear themselves talk so they say what was already said, just using different words. By the time the judges offer up the holdings, we realize the screaming is no longer just inside our heads and get asked to please leave the library.
So, how do we turn this tedium into an understanding of the rule, as well as an ability to apply it when faced with the question of “animo felonico or no?” Perhaps it was Latin-induced delirium, or a healthy dose of irreverence, but my friends and I found that what worked best for us was turning the cases into a source of memorable entertainment. The more mundane the case, the more absurdity we required.
While the law can be very serious, and law school stakes can feel very high, our instant recall, and our mental health, can benefit from tricks that are not only effective but make us smile at odd moments throughout our exam, thereby reducing some test-taking agony. So, here are a few ways to get weird with memorization in a way that actually helps you memorize.
1. Get Weird with Voices
To be honest, it’s hard to spice up cases that were decided back when “assize time” was a thing. But if you revisit Catesby & Friends aloud in your finest Downton Abbey impression, it’s a little more bearable. Though the fact that it was our “finest” doesn’t mean we don’t owe the deepest apologies to our friends across the pond.
2. Get Weird with Vulgarity
To this day, I know “replevin” to mean “I’m taking my sh**t back.” Now you try! Pick a term that you’ve never heard before in your life and that you are unlikely to use after 1L, so your brain refuses to retain it. Now come up with a definition that includes your favorite swear words. See if that helps you remember, though don’t be mad if, despite your best efforts, you can now never effing forget it.
3. Get Weird with Stories
When working through application of the law, you can sometimes find that the cases themselves may not feel like useful frames for seeing the law in action. That’s when narratives – preferably ones including the people in your study group – can come in handy. So, if the merger doctrine just isn’t landing for your buddy John, explain to him that if you were to throw this here Criminal Law casebook near his head with the intention of creating a reasonable apprehension of an imminent battery, you could be charged with assault. If you were to throw the casebook at his head, and hit it, it would be an intentional, harmful or offensive touching constituting battery. At that point, although the moment before the casebook actually hit his head may have been an assault, once the book hits and the battery occurs, you can only be charged with the battery, and not the lesser included assault, even though the assault may have happened as well. If that doesn’t help, demonstrate. Just kidding. Also, don’t forget to remind him that conspiracy doesn’t merge!
4. Get Weird with Pictures
I am eternally grateful to the person who had my used torts book before me and covered it with a stick figure illustration for every case. I knew what Vosburg v. Putney was about before reading it because of a drawing next to the case that looked a lot like this:
Though the case could also be said to be about the political implications of socioeconomic disparity in a small Midwestern town, it’s hard to capture that in a doodle.
So, when wordy jurists plunge you into boredom at best, despair at worst, remember that “get weird” is yet another tool in your toolbox, nestled between “take breaks” and “IRAC.”
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