Sometimes students get so focused on the case that they’re reading that they miss other information that could help them to understand the case and put it in context. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for maximizing your casebook reading in law school:
(1) Pay attention to the table of contents and chapter and section headings. If you look at where the case falls in the table of contents and use chapter and section headings as a guide, you’ll know more about the legal issue in the case, even before you start reading it.
(2) Read the introduction. Sometimes casebooks have introductions at the beginning of chapters or just prior to the case that provide more context for the case.
(3) Pay close attention to the notes that follow the case to gain more context for what you are reading. Professors often assign the notes at the end of the case as well. Don’t be tempted to treat these notes as less important than the case—the notes often offer additional insight into the case that you just read.
(4) Work through questions and hypotheticals before class. The notes after the case may also contain questions and hypotheticals—working through those questions and hypotheticals before you go into class may help you answer your professor’s questions if you’re called on in class. If you are an introvert or find the prospect of being called out in class stressful, you can use these note questions and hypotheticals to practice how you will approach your professor’s questions during class. Sometime just the process of practicing something in advance can help you feel more comfortable about how to handle being called on in class. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you may find the questions and hypotheticals particularly helpful as you study.
(5) Look for new cases in the notes that develop a more nuanced approach to the law that you’re studying. If you find new cases mentioned in the notes, think carefully about what those cases add to your understanding of the law. Ask yourself: How does this case relate to the case that came before it? Does it take a similar approach to the law? Does it further develop some element of the law that was introduced in the previous case? Or, does it illustrate a different approach to that law? Does it demonstrate the effect of different facts on how the law is applied? These types of questions not only help you to understand that particular note case but may also shed additional light on the larger case that you’ve just read.