The first semester of law school comes as a shock to many students. After having mastered college (at least to the degree necessary to be admitted to law school), many 1Ls are distraught to discover that law school isn’t just a harder or higher level version of the same—it’s a whole different ball game.
Reading Case Law is New to Most Law Students
In a college textbook, no matter how high level and complex, you’re presented with the information that the textbook authors and your professor feel is most important. The information you need to do well on a test is contained within your assigned readings and lectures, though you may be required to add some analysis.
That’s something most of us take for granted until the system changes, as it does abruptly during the first year of law school.
In law school, you won’t be presented with neat summaries and statements of the rule of law. Instead, you’ll read case law: judicial opinions that may range from a few pages to thirty pages or more.
Some of those cases are concise and to the point, with nary a wasted word. By “some,” I mean “a very small percentage”.
In law school, you’ll quickly learn that you’re looking for specifics in each case: standard vernacular describes the information you’re looking for as “IRAC,” or Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.
In theory, now that you’ve read that, you know how to break down a case. In reality, it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable glossing over the unimportant details and detours and focusing in on those key elements. (Bonus points if you just thought, “Hey—that’s a lot like the Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT!”)
Topping the Curve
Most law schools grade on a curve, which means that your grades depend not just on knowing the material and providing clear, thorough analysis, but also on doing a better job of those things than your classmates.
By your second year of law school, everyone will know how to read case law and the playing field will—at least to a degree—level out. But, during first year (and especially first semester), knowing how to read case law gives you a real competitive advantage.
There are law school prep courses that help you get ready for the different type of reading and classroom experience in law school, and some of those classes are quite helpful. But, if you’re still in college, you can save yourself some time and expense by simply taking a couple of classes with case books.
College Courses that Give You a Competitive Edge in Law School
Business Law is the most popular law-related undergraduate class for those who aren’t majoring in Political Science. Unfortunately, most Business Law courses use a regular textbook. That’s not to say that Business Law classes aren’t valuable for other reasons. But, with the information already culled out and boiled down for you, you won’t learn to read and efficiently parse case law.
The courses in which you are most likely to find true case books are Criminal Law, Constitutional Law and possibly Environmental Law. But, don’t assume: when you find a course that might give you the leg up you’re looking for, find out what book(s) that professor lists and take a look before you commit.