All the time I hear about people who don’t like to read, who say they simply don’t have the time to read, or that they simply don’t understand what they are reading. While I understand no one has all of the time in the world to read their books, reading is crucial in law school.
If you don’t understand what the book is trying to tell you, even vaguely, there’s a problem.
First, no one expects you to excel at every subject or understand everything. Property law is famously known for being difficult not only to understand, but to read as well; patent law is incredibly boring. Even tax law is only interesting to those who can see its implications. Just try your best because that’s all that you really can do.
However, keep in mind why you read the book in the first place. We read casebooks in law school so that we can pull rules out of cases. The rules weren’t there first and then applied, but applied first and then carried from case to case over time. Focus on the rule of law, and any changes a case is trying to make to that rule of law, and you’re half way to understanding the case.
Compare facts. By comparing facts, or even reading the note pages, footnotes, etc., it can become easier to distinguish the rule of law from one case to another case. This is especially important in torts as well as civil procedure. In criminal law, instead of looking solely at facts, look at the statute. It guides the analysis more than anything else.
Re-reading and book-briefing help solidify the material. Re-reading is sometimes hard to figure out, especially if you didn’t understand the case the first time. That’s why I always buy used books – not so I can rely on another person’s analysis, but so I’m pointed in the right direction and can re-read those sections. Book-briefing is good for the visual learner, and typing briefs is good for the kinesthetic learner.
Online briefs and brief books are good, but they are no substitute to reading. Online briefing is good when you are in a jam, really. There are going to be days where something important came up, and forty pages were read, but not briefed. Don’t use other people’s briefs because they will not help you distinguish yourself in the classroom. The professors know when you use professional briefs, and while they find them helpful, too, it’s still important to go beyond the material by asking yourself WHY? You are not going to see as much policy in online briefs and will need to be able to recognize the underlying theory of a rule to be successful in class.
Supplements are good, but not perfect. At least once or twice a semester, a professor will have a different rule than what is in a supplement. So, use the supplement (like Dressler) to help you understand why a rule exists and to help you organize your outline — but don’t rely on the supplement to tell you the EXACT same rules as your law professor.
In conclusion, you don’t have to be a speed reader to make law school work for you. You just have to know what you are looking for. The whole semester is pulling out rules, but at the end of the semester, you are expected to apply those rules just as was done in the casebook. Good luck!