We’ve been getting a lot of messages from upset 1Ls recently, wondering why their first semester grades weren’t all they’d hoped. As I’ve talked with some of these folks, it’s become apparent that many of them made the same mistake last semester — they read all the assigned cases repeatedly (3-5 times, in one case).
Do NOT do this!
Routinely rereading cases is a total waste of time, and time is something you don’t have to waste as a 1L.
Why is Rereading Cases a Waste of Time?
Just to be clear, we strongly encourage you to read each assigned case once, thoroughly. But not more than that!
Why? Because law school isn’t about memorizing cases — it’s about knowing the law and being able to apply that law to a new fact pattern on an exam.
Cases are valuable only to the extent they tell you what the law is.
Will you necessarily pick up on what the case is telling you on the first reading? Hopefully, but not always. But that’s why you go to class! If you read a case and don’t understand exactly what the point of it is, ask your professor (or just listen carefully during the class discussion).
Frankly, if you’ve made a good faith effort to read a case carefully and you’ve gone to class and listened carefully to the discussion and asked any questions you have, and you still don’t know what the takeaway law is, I’d rather see you pick up a hornbook or commercial supplement on the topic than reread the case. You’ll make far more headway that way on the real goal — knowing the law.
Why Do Law Students Want to Reread the Cases?
So, if it’s a waste of time to reread cases several times, why do law students do it?
This might be controversial, but I think it’s because rereading the cases is one of the easiest things you can possibly do while still pretending to be productive.
Who can fault you for spending time reading cases, right? You’re working hard!
Wrong. In a world of unlimited time, sure, read each case ten times, I don’t care. But when time is limited, there are many more challenging activities you could be engaged in, which offer more bang for your buck. For example: outlining, making other study aids, taking practice tests, and so on.
The problem with rereading cases is that you feel like you’re working hard, but you’re not really actively engaging with the material (which is the really hard part of law school).
What Should You Do Instead?
If you find yourself tempted to regularly reread cases (and, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally looking back at a particularly difficult or important case), it’s time to take stock of your study plan.
- How many practice hypos have you written out this week?
- Do you have attack plans for the topics you’ve covered recently?
- Have you gone to office hours and talked over questions with your professor?
All of these tasks (and any other form of active learning) are more critical than reading a case you’ve already read and discussed in class.
Keep in mind the ultimate goal — you need to know “the law” and be able to apply this law to a new fact pattern. How often have you practiced doing that? If your answer isn’t “multiple times a week,” stop rereading cases and get with the program!
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Do I Really Have to Read the Cases?
- How to Brief a Case in Law School
- Are You Spending Time Learning the Material? If Not, You Should Be
- A Common Law Student Mistake: Spending Time Studying Material You Already Know
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I read cases before class and then sometimes skimmed them again as I was outlining. I think that was about right with one important caveat- I also made sure to read at least one of the E&E, nutshell or hornbook for each class. IMO, going over the materials from a different angle like that was much better than going over it twice from the same angle by re-reading the case. Lots of times, my understanding of what the case was about shifted somewhat reading the E&E, then I went back and checked the case and found that I had indeed kind of distorted its meaning in my head.
One good list of recommended supplements is here- http://lawbooklist.com/