A couple weeks ago I wrote a guide for those poor souls who’ve made the poor decision to abandon all of the joy in their lives and attend law school. You can find it here, wherein I give a few tips on how to survive and mentally prepare yourself for the first year of law school. One of these tips was to do the reading for your classes well in advance of the class, so that you may be prepared when the evil glare of a professor falls upon your unprepared ass and demands that you demonstrate your complete lack of knowledge to all of the other poor idiots that sat up one night, presumably having simultaneously wet the bed and shit themselves (the rare double whammy), and said “I really want to be a lawyer, because it’s either that or getting into the S&M scene in my local town!”
First, they still should have gone with the option that involved burning wax, rope play, and nipple clamps.
Second, some of the lawyers in the LawyerSlack took some exception to me advising kids to actually read the cases for class, and filled the channel with examples of their own lack of preparation for classes. “Boozy,” they furiously typed in an effort to avoid a moment of actual work on their cases, “We’re all licensed attorneys, and we hardly did any of the reading for our classes! Why are you telling these kids it’s necessary to do the reading for their classes when all they need to really do is go to the outline depot or some other sort of thing and read up on that shit?”
And I mean…shit, they’re sort of right, aren’t they? I mean, despite what I told all the fucking morons who are just so goddamn deadset on ruining their lives that they enrolled in some third-tier shit school buried in the middle of a cornfield and whose highest-educated professor once saw a picture of Harvard Law, reading every case isn’t really essential to passing law school. It’s not even essential to doing well in law school. A lot of guys, myself included, got through law school because we were able to beg, cheat, borrow, and steal to get a decent outline and a collection of case briefs and we knew where the Nutshells were in the law library (and how to hide them so nobody else could find that shit). Why should a bunch of 1L’s in fucking 2017 need to read every assigned case just to learn the same basic concepts?
Yeah, You Don’t Need the Cases To Learn the Concepts.
Alright, so let’s talk first about how this shit is supposed to go. In this massive goddamn casebook, where a new edition is released every year to add like…one question…on the end of section summaries, there’s a shit ton of cases. Just cases. There may be some text actually explaining shit in there, but not likely, what you’re more likely to get it “Have you ever heard of ‘strict liability?’ No? Here’s four cases, good fuckin’ luck.” Traditionally, you’re expected to read and analyze those four cases, thinking critically about them, and come away with some understanding of why the court held the way it did. If you’re really adventurous, you can even make a “case brief,” which is like a one page summary the creation of which has transcended the realm of mortal men and has become a technical art unto itself. Seriously, these motherfucking things have like a standardized pattern and form these days that every goddamn law student obsesses over,
The secret is, the concepts these cases are teaching you are really well held principles, and that’s why we have cases like Palsgraf or Pennoyer that lawyers have been learning the same goddamn way for generations: the principles of law they teach are so basic that these are really the best examples of them we have. And honestly, those principles of law, which we treat many times as black letter law, don’t really change. If some new form of interpretation opens up in a major opinion, then that opinion gets added to the new edition of the casebook, and you brief that shit too, and then all the study guides pick up on it.
And guys, the study guides are where it’s fucking at when it comes to learning the goddamn basic concepts of law.
So…Cliff Notes, Law Edition??
Yeah, pretty much, except not at all.
Okay, my go-to in law school were the Nutshells, a series of academic study guides from West. You know, West as in “WestLaw” and Thomson-Reuters. The guys that set up little tables around your school offering you a bunch of shit and who give law students free access to the unlimited range of their services like drug dealers may give away a sample of crack to get your ass addicted to it. These are pretty hefty volumes, but they break down all the basic principles in law to easily digestable segments that you can then use to prepare for and do okay on an exam. So you don’t really need to read the cases to learn this shit at all as long as your ass pays attention in class and studies diligently outside of class.
But that won’t fucking help you when you’re put on call by the professor in the middle of the room, because the Nutshells don’t list fucking anything about the cases you’ll be reading. For that, maybe you need something like this website, which really fucking does provide you with a full set of case briefs for most of the cases you’ll be assigned. Using this list, you can probably fake your way through being put on call and the socratic shitshow that it entails. Maybe your professor will know you didn’t read the case, but it’s not like they’ll ever fucking call you out on it. They can’t prove you didn’t read it, man, and it’s not like you suffer much worse than a sense of shame at having subverted the system like non-committal bitch you are.
So yeah, reading the cases isn’t exactly necessary for law school success. Shit, when I did Wills and Trusts, I didn’t read a single fucking case in the casebook, but I still fucking booked the course (lawyers will know what that means). You can do the same thing, probably.
But you should still read the fucking cases, at least during your 1L year.
Why? Don’t We Have Enough to Do?
- Fuck you, you chose this life.
- You’re not just learning the basic concepts of law, shithead.
Law is more than knowing some basic principles and being able to read a statute. Law is also about being able to keep up with the changes in the law and knowing how to identify the shit that supports your position, and that sort of shit requires you to know how to read a goddamn case. Believe it or not, cases aren’t always going to come with a pre-prepared statement of why the court held in the manner it did or the facts underlying the decision. Most of the time the case will state the holding, have some key number headings that discuss something on a really high level, and then like Twitter after any political event, it’s gonna be pretty much an Opinion.
And that opinion? That’s the most important goddamn thing, and it’s not going to be some 20-30-40-200 year old case that has a huge amount of publicity and has case briefs all over the goddamn place for it. If you’re fucking lucky, it’ll be a case that’s somewhat important enough someone will write something about it in the Bar journal, but that’s about fucking it. It’ll be state specific, it’ll be controlling law, and you’ll be expected to know why and how it applies to the case you have, and folks there won’t be a goddamn shortcut available to you on it. That’s how it is when you’re no longer working for a goddamn “B, maybe a B+” but instead you’re working for a real goddamn person who’s paying you real goddamn money to be a real goddamn lawyer.
You, by the way, will need to know how to read and analyze every single one of those, as well as the related cases, to understand how they help or hurt your clients and your argument. And, frankly, if you spend all of law school coasting through with online case briefs and those goddamn study books, you won’t be able to do that shit efficiently for a while, because, guys, the ability to read a goddamn case is a fucking art form. You need to know how to separate dicta from precedent, how to assess and compare the facts, how to predict the analysis of your case from the way the past cases were analysed in the discussion, all that awesome shit. That’s what all those fucking cases in law school are secretly teaching you to do in addition to figuring out those longstanding principles of law and shit: How to read and analyse, and then to apply, a court opinion to your specific set of facts and weigh the value of it.
It’s essential to being a good goddamn lawyer, because very little of our lives are spent in a courtroom (even for trial attorneys) compared to the amount of time we spend getting ready to go into the courtroom. Case analysis and application, legal research, and knowing how to use what you find intelligently is the goddamn job, and you need to learn how to do that shit early.
Early, like in 1L, where if you find yourself confused at how it worked you can go to the nice person in the front of the room and ask for assistance without looking like a goddamn moron. After 1L? You’re expected to know how to do this shit already, because it’s so fucking basic it’s ordering a pumpkin spice latte. So read your fucking cases, kiddos. At least until you’re goddamn good and certain you know how to do the essential part of being a lawyer. Then you can start jerking off to a summary of the Restatement of Torts or something.