« on: May 30, 2009, 11:52:52 AM »
I think that briefing and reading the cases is a great way to be successful in Law School. After a year, I understand the reason why the traditional continues. The casebook is not useless. I think it can teach you everything you need to know.
My problem was how I read the cases, and I think it may be useful for 0Ls to heed my caution and learn how to read a case.
8 months ago, I read a case like I would read a story. I started at the beginning, and read it through. Often, I would have no idea why the cases were so long. Jeez, I thought, judges really loved to ramble (especially Cardozo). I didn't understand that a case's structure is intended to get at a point that briefing would have explained: a legal issue.
Reading for legal issues is a great way to prepare for your exams, because your exams are -- surprise! -- all about issues; your classes are all about legal issues; and your professors are interested in discussing legal issues with you. The problem is that often students don't see that, get mediocre grades, and then get frustrated and blame the system. No, the system works; it will tell you how to think like a lawyer if you let it.
What is a legal issue? If I were a 0L, I would spend a great deal of your time before law school figuring that out. Read Oyez. Read a case. Brief a case. Get deep inside what a legal issue is, and then, when you're at your most confused, read how the courts resolve it.
Now here is how you read a case:
1. Find the issue and simmer over it. Think about what makes it tricky. Why have the courts not resolved it before? Here's a sample Public International Law issue off Oyez (I know many of you studs want to be Int'l lawyers):
May the rights protected by the Geneva Convention be enforced in federal court through habeas corpus petitions? (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld)
Think about why it hasn't ever been resolved. Think about what makes it an issue. The US has ratified much of the Geneva Convention, but how does that apply to municipal law? Why hasn't this case been brought before? What is the power of the Federal Courts pursuant to Article III? This is as much of a Civil Procedure and Conlaw question as it is about International Law.
2. Read the case with careful attention to how the court works through the issue.
This is how you learn to think like a lawyer. What sub-issues are relevant to the issue before you? Article III power? The scope of the Geneva Convention? Previous precedents about habeas corpus petitions? I have not read Hamden, but, with the law student intuition you will build, you should be able to guess at what is important. This is also what you do on exams. What is tricky in the fact pattern? What do we need to know to resolve it? How do we go about resolving it?
3. Think about policy.
Your last step is to think about how this ruling my affect other rulings, or big picture ideas. For the Geneva Convention, we might want to think about our respect for enemy combatants, our feelings about detention without habeas for suspected dangerous people. Here, we want to ask questions like: if Hamden can't get redress through the Federal courts, where will he go? How will this affect the view of the Geneva Convention, and our ratification of it, worldwide? Will this ruling affect habeas in other hypotheticals?
This is how you do it, I think. Trust me: if and when you get it, it is ridiculous amounts of fun. I read white-collar crime cases for fun during my spare time. Even on the bus to the Loop, a casebook is never far from my eyes. And I have favorite jurists, too.