How to Read a Casebook

Reading a casebook so you know what you're supposed to be pulling out of a case to understand it can be hard. Opinions excerpts can be long and dry sometimes, and keeping yourself interested can be a challenge, especially if you're not entirely sure what you should be looking for.

Today's blog is filled with what I like to focus on when I read my casebooks, and I hope you find them to be useful!

Pay attention to the procedural history

At the beginning of a case there is usually some procedural history because most opinions in casebooks are appellate opinions. The facts that I like to pull out in general are who sued who and why, as well as who won in the trial court and why.

For certain classes, like Contracts, I also pay attention to timelines, which can be essential when you're trying to understand why a court says there's a valid contract or not.

Determining what is relevant enough for you to include in your case brief can be tough to figure out when you first start out in law school, but I promise that it gets easier with practice.

Figure out what the court is trying to solve

Finding the issue in a case helps you figure out everything else you should be paying attention to. Typically, I keep a look out for the word "whether." The judge writing the opinion most likely isn't going to say "here's the issue we're analyzing in this case," but the term "whether" is a good indication of where the issue is laid out.

Once you determine what the issue is, it'll be easier to figure out the rule and what parts of the analysis you should focus on.

Find the rule for the case

The rule for a case will tell you what the judge will be applying the facts of the case to. For example, if the issue of the case is whether or not a battery occurred, the court will probably describe that a battery occurs when a person acts with the intention to cause harmful or offensive conduct.

Look for relevant analysis

Analysis is the most important part of the opinion you're reading. This is where the judge looks at the facts of the case and how they work with the rule you found before.

Fun fact: this is also what you should be focusing most of your time on during hypos and essays on exams. It's where the bulk of your grade will come from.

Naturally, end with the conclusion

Your conclusion is going to be the court's holding. Most often, you'll find the conclusion at the end of the opinion, but sometimes it'll be stated right at the beginning.

I hope today's blog helps you out!




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