IMO Jack is right. You can get everything you need by spending quality time with a canned brief, study guide, and perhaps scanning the case - will save 30% to 50% time reading and "learning." Spend the time you saved taking practice tests and applying the concepts. Do you really need to read an 8 page case to effectively learn and understand the concept of "open and obvious" in premises liability? The "black letter" series were excellent briefs for getting to the heart of things.
We've had this discussion before, but I always enjoy advocating for the other side. Sick in the head, perhaps. The platitudinous obvious, of course, is to do what works for you. With 1L under my belt, I can't deny that I don't feel the need to read every word of every case anymore. This is especially true on those eight-page cases where you take away a single rule of law that can be succinctly expressed in about eight words. In hindsight, some of that reading is probably a waste of time, particularly if your time needs to be budgeted. A canned brief can cut to the chase - and I made good use of canned briefs as a 1L, especially in contracts. (I don't want to intimate that I would never use a canned brief.) However, I was a much greener student last year than I am this year. Today, my case reading consists almost exclusively of speed reading through the facts and fluff to find that one-sentence rule of law or the two-pronged test that I'm going to need to apply to fact patterns on exams. But are most 1Ls equipped to assume such an abbreviated approach right from the start without having read any significant number of cases? Maybe, maybe not. It's a value judgment, granted. It's also a gamble. Learning to glean relevant information quickly from elaborate fact patterns takes practice. Canned briefs don't teach you how to brief. And being able to brief a fact pattern thoroughly is fundamental to writing a good paper. I have no regrets at all that I read all of the cases last year. Almost half of my 1L class didn't make it to 2L, and while the reasons are diverse, I don't know any 2Ls next to me who shortchanged the reading last year. After reading so many cases, you eventually arrive at a point where you can zip through them at speed and find the point that you need to take from it without having to read every single word comprehensively. Some people get there faster than others. But I would only caution 1Ls, especially early in the game, not to assume that they're smarter than the law school process. If reading the cases were not important to a well-rounded understanding of how to apply the law, then worthwhile law schools would not assign them to be read in the first place.
Parting thought. When called upon to brief cases in class, those who didn't survive 1L, together with those who placed in the bottom of the class, invariably just started reading the case aloud. And they'd read every freakin' bloody word until the professor mercifully stopped them. I used to marvel at this. God, I'd sit there squirming in silent agony at these high school reading-out-loud voices "briefing" the given case, and all I could think was, "Future attorney? Good luck." The students who placed at the top of the class never
did that, including the book-briefers, like myself. I didn't have time to write out a formal brief for every case, although I tried to write at least one of my own for each class. Yet even by just book-briefing, a quick glance at the facts and the issue you've scrawled in the margin and you'd say, "Oh yeah, I remember this one. The guy did this and that. The issue was whether... The rule was... Overturned." 1, 2, 3. It's easy to tell when somebody has read the case at least once, and the whole class respects that person a lot more than the plain readers. However, the litmus test is, who did better on the exams? This becomes self-evident. Ultimately, the students who discipline themselves to do most or all of the reading will also discipline themselves to do the necessary practice tests and further, they'll get more mileage from every practice test they write than will those who skirt the reading.