Law Students Can't Read Cases Either
On Friday, we talked about the perception, revealed at a roundtable discussion among law school deans, that law students were not learning/not being properly taught effective legal writing.
Yesterday, on the Law School Academic Support Blog, Amy Jarmon, Assistant Dean for Academic Success Programs at Texas Tech Law School (sorry about the game Saturday, Dean Jarmon; Hook 'Em!), threw up a blurb about the influx of panicked 1Ls freaking out about how long they're spending reading and briefing cases for class.
I think it's perfectly legit for 1Ls, a month into their law school experience, to be a little thrown by the whole "casebook method" of teaching. Many of their concerns, Jarmon says, "are linked to not understanding why we read cases and how they fit into overall learning and skills development." Again, makes sense.
Jarmon reproduces four tidbits of advice that she gives to these students (below, verbatim):
- All cases are not equal in importance. Some cases
are read for historical background only - the law will change by the
last case on a subtopic. Some cases are packed full of important
essentials such as rules, policies, jurisdictional differences,
important points of reasoning. Some cases are included for just one
smaller essential: a definition or an exception.
- Cases need to be read at two levels. What are the
important aspects to understand about the individual case itself? This
level of reading focuses on the parts within a case and the specifics
one needs to understand the case. How does the case fit into a series
of cases, into the subtopic, and into the topic? This level of reading
focuses on the synthesis of the case into the larger body of law that
one is learning.
- Cases are a starting point in the study of law rather than an ending point.
Cases show us how judges think about the law. Cases teach us how to
extrapolate the most important aspects from the full opinion. Cases
provide us with "tools" for our toolkit so we can solve new legal
problems. Cases become illustrations in outlines rather than the basis
of outlines. Professors will not ask one to "recite everything you know
about Case X" on their exams.
- Cases are essential to the practice of law.
Lawyers read and analyze cases every day. They are constantly searching
for precedents that relate to their clients' cases. Thus, the time
spent in law school on reading and briefing is not merely an "ivory
tower" exercise. Students who become skilled at these tasks are making
an investment in their future expertise. Students who use canned briefs
or headnotes as substitutes for these tasks ultimately shortchange
their professional growth.
I worry a bit about the last two pieces of advice. Indulge my stream of consciousness here. Is it true that, for purposes of law school, as opposed to the practice of law, cases are only a starting point? If it is true, is there a disconnect between the last two points? How does all of this play if you're not going to be a litigator?
I don't have answers to these questions, but welcome your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to finding a post somewhere in the blogosphere criticizing the ability of law students or recent graduates to do simple math, and then the trifecta will be complete.
Posted by Eric Lipman on September 21, 2010 at 11:17 AM | Permalink
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