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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LAW SCHOOL CASES:
HOW TO READ CASES IN 5 MINUTES
&
SUMMARIZE THEM IN 3 LINES
Hello!
Welcome to Legal
Eagle’s Ultimate
Guide to Law School
Cases
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1. HOW LAWYERS USE CASES
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HOW LAWYERS USE CASES
Before we explain how you can turbo charge your case readings, we need to talk about
how lawyers use cases in practice. Because the way lawyers use cases is the same way
law students use cases on exams.
When practicing attorneys use a case in a persuasive brief (e.g. a motion to a judge),
they use it in one of two ways.
I will demonstrate those two ways using the famous case of Hawkins v. McGee. The
Hawkins case is usually one of the first cases students learn in their Contracts class. It
deals with the type of damages that a plaintiff can recover (i.e. what the plaintiff would
win in their lawsuit) when certain contracts are breached.
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HOW LAWYERS USE CASES
A. The Parenthetical Citation
The first way lawyers use cases is called a Parenthetical Citation. All that means is that
the lawyer cites to the case itself, and then following the citation, the specific legal idea
that the case supports.
So for the Hawkins case, it might look like this:
Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114 (1929) (allowing expectation damages
for breach of contractual warranty).
In summary, this is how lawyers cite “the Rule” – by citing to the authority and citing the
rule itself.
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HOW LAWYERS USE CASES
B. The Parenthetical Citation
The second way lawyers use cases is called a “Rule Proof.” A Rule Proof is a rundown of
the facts of the case you’re using as authority followed by a comparison of that case to
the facts the situation.
You can use a rule proof to show that a case is similar to the situation you are dealing
with (in which case the court should follow that authority), or you can show that it is
different (and thus the court should not follow that authority)
If you were to rule proof Hawkins against a foot surgery case, it might look like this:
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The case at bar is similar to Hawkins v. McGee. Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114 (1929). In Hawkins,
a patient with a scarred hand sought treatment from a surgeon. The defendant surgeon offered to
graft skin from the patient’s chest on to his scarred hand. In so doing, the surgeon stated that he
would “guarantee to make the hand a hundred per cent perfect hand or a hundred per cent good
hand.” The surgery did not go as planned, and resulted in a hairy hand.
The court found a valid contract and that the patient was entitled to the monetary difference
between a perfect hand, as promised, and a hairy hand, as delivered. In the case at bar, the patient
needed foot surgery. The surgeon, like the surgeon in Hawkins, made a promise about the surgery.
Specifically, the surgeon promised that the patient would walk again. Just like in Hawkins, the
surgery was not successful; just as the patient had a hairy hand in Hawkins, the patient here never
walked again. Therefore, as in Hawkins, here the Court would likely come to the same conclusion
and award the difference between a foot that allows the patient to walk and one that does not.
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HOW LAWYERS USE CASES
In summary, this is how lawyers cite “the Facts” and use cases as comparisons.
Note that sometimes you can combine elements of the Parenthetical and Rule Proof
together. For example:
Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114 (1929) (holding that doctor who promised
a patient a “hundred per cent perfect hand” breached a warranty by
providing a hairy hand instead).
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USING CASES ON EXAMS
The way that attorneys use cases in briefs is how you’ll use cases on exams.
Issue spotting exams simulate litigation between two or more parties. In Torts class, the hypos
involve torts lawsuits. In Criminal Law, the essay involve litigation in the form of the state
prosecuting criminals. In Contracts, you litigate a contract dispute.
Because Law School Issue Spotting Essay exams simulate real litigation, you are going to use
cases the same way lawyers use cases in real litigation:
1. You will use a case to demonstrate a specific legal concept (like a parenthetical)
or
2. You will use a case to compare the facts of that case with the facts presented in the Hypo (like
a rule proof).
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USING CASES ON EXAMS
Why are these the only two ways you use cases on the exam? Because you’re going to be
pretending to be a lawyer for one party (and often the lawyer on the other side).
You can think of cases as tools in a tool box. You’re going to want to take out those tools at
the right time and apply them in the right way. But when you are using cases as a tool,
there is only so much information in that case that can apply.
Using cases to compare the facts of the case to the facts of the essay hypo is helpful and
persuasive.
You can use those facts to draw an analogy and argue that the hypo should turn out the
same way or in the opposite way (depending on whether you argue the facts are similar or
dissimilar).
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USING CASES ON EXAMS
You can also use a case as authority for stating the rule that you’re going to be discussing in
your essay answer. Law School essays are, at a fundamental level, all about applying the
facts of the hypo to the relevant rules.
But those two things are about all you can do. You’re not going to be using the dissent of a
case on your exam, or the procedural posture of the case, or the history of the case.
None of that information would help you argue your point.
If you can’t use it to argue your point, it’s not going in your essay. If it’s not going in your
essay it’s not something you need to worry about because you can’t be tested on it.
Because you can only use cases in these specific ways, it should guide how you read and
brief your assigned cases.
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2.
HOW
TO
READ
CASES
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2. HOW TO READ CASES
So now that you know how you are going to use the cases on the exams,
we can start strategizing how you read cases.
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2. HOW TO READ CASES
1.
Don’t start with your casebook
Your casebook is a compilation of cases (obviously). In theory, the author has eliminated
extraneous portions from the case. In reality, that rarely happens. For the most part,
casebooks just compile publicly available cases.
On top of that, casebooks don’t explain anything about the case.
So since casebooks don’t add anything to your understanding of the case,
DON’T START WITH YOUR CASEBOOK.
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2. HOW TO READ CASES
2. Start with a commercial outline
The best way to understand a case (and the best way to understand it quickly and
efficiently) is to review it multiple times in multiple ways. Notice I said “review” not read.
You’re not going to be reading every word of the case more than once.
Instead, you want to build up your understanding in layers. First, start with the most
fundamental aspects of the case then build your understanding in layers.
Where can you find a breakdown of the fundamentals?
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2. HOW TO READ CASES
Since your casebook doesn’t give you anything other than the case itself, start with a
commercial outline, especially if that commercial outline is keyed to your casebook.
If your commercial outline is keyed to your casebook, it will contain a summary of every
case in the casebook. Usually those summaries are a paragraph long.
This is the perfect place to start.
The author of the commercial outline will probably have summarized the important facts
and important legal concepts of that case.
It might be a little too simplified, but that’s ok because this is just the starting point.
Have more than one commercial outline? Great, read both summaries.
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2. HOW TO READ CASES
2. Layer your understanding and add complexity by going to Westlaw
Once you have a fundamental understanding of why you’re supposed to read the assigned
case move on to Westlaw (or LexisNexis, if that’s your preference).
Westlaw is the legal database that all practicing lawyers use to research their cases. It is
available to law students for free.
All you have to do is enter the case citation of the case you’re looking for and it will bring up
the case.
For example, if you searched for “84 N.H. 114” you would pull up Hawkins v. McGee.
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Case citation
Case name
2. HOW TO READ CASES
The best part of Westlaw is that they employ thousands of lawyers to summarize every
case that has ever existed, including the cases in your casebook.
At the beginning of every case, Westlaw attorneys list “headnotes” that summarize the
most important details of the case.
These headnotes should provide more detail about the facts and legal rules in the case.
Westlaw also include a very brief summary paragraph at the start of the case.
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Most relevant
summary of the
case!
2. HOW TO READ CASES
D. After the summaries, move to the text
Only after you’ve reviewed the available summaries should you move to the text of the case
itself.
Reading the Commercial Outline and Westlaw headnotes should only take a few minutes.
Only after reading those summaries, if you have time, should you move to the text of the
case.
If the summary and headnotes did not provide a great explanation of the facts of the case,
you should pay special attention to the description of the facts in the case itself.
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3. THREE POINT CASE BRIEFING METHOD
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3. THREE POINT CASE BRIEFING METHOD
For some reason, Law School professors say you need review every case in exquisite detail
and note every citation, parties, procedural posture, disposition, facts, reasoning, asides,
dissents, etc.
It’s possible that you *MIGHT* talk about those issues in class.
But you won’t be tested on those issues on your exam. As we discussed above, there is
only so much information from a case that you can use on an exam.
Therefore this standard format of “briefing” is a waste of time.
A much better idea is write a THREE POINT BRIEF.
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3. THREE POINT CASE BRIEFING METHOD
Remember, on an issue spotting exam you’re only going to use two things from the case:
the rule and the facts. That’s it.
Why? Because when you are writing your essay answer, your going to be using the cases
you discussed in class as an analogy. You’re either going to say that the factual hypo is
similar in some way to the case discussed (and therefore should come out the same way), or
it is dissimilar in some way (and therefore should come out differently).
You can’t really use the procedural posture, policy rationale, or dissenting opinions in your
essays
Which means that “rainbow briefing” and writing 10-page case briefs are a complete waste
of time.
Only facts, outcome, and rule matter.
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3. THREE POINT CASE BRIEFING METHOD
So when you are preparing for class and writing your outline just use our 3 Point Briefing
system:
- Name of the Case
- The Relevant Rule
- The Story (with the outcome).
That’s all the information you need! Very easy to memorize, very easy to prepare.
Example:
Hawkins v. McGee (“Hairy Hand” case)
Rule: damages for breach of warranty are measured by the
difference between what was promised and what was
delivered. Doctor promise perfect hand, but delivered hairy
hand instead.
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3. THREE POINT CASE BRIEFING METHOD
You don’t even need to bother with the year of the case or the jurisdiction.
Law School classes take a mish-mash of cases from all over the country (and sometimes
cases from other countries).
In the real world, jurisdiction, year, and the level of the appellate court matter a great deal.
But not in Law School!
The best part is that once you have summarized the case using the 3 Point Method, you can
add that straight to your outline.
And, you’ll probably never have to look at that case ever again. You have conveniently
packaged the case in a form that you will easily remember and be able to use directly on
your exam.
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4.
LEGAL EAGLE
MASTERCLASS
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4. LEGAL EAGLE MASTERCLASS
If you’re interested in more strategies to crush Law School, check out Legal Eagle’s
Masterclass.
Most students approach Law School the same way they approached college.
The Legal Eagle Masterclass is rooted in the principle that every single piece of information
you study needs to be relevant and valuable to your final exam—if it’s not, it’s not worth
studying.
Our masterclass will teach you what to look for so you’re not squandering your precious
time—you’ll be studying less, learning more, and getting better grades than your
classmates. These are practical, on-the-ground tactics for all aspects of Law
School—homework, classwork, outlines, studying, and—most importantly—EXAMS.
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4. LEGAL EAGLE MASTERCLASS
•
You’ll get ahead of your class because you’ll have knowledge and the framework for
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You’ll dominate your finals because you’ll know exactly what professors are looking
for.
We give you a leg up on your competition. Learn more here:
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Good Luck!
Any questions?
Find us at:
[email protected]
www.LegalEaglePrep.com
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