FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
How to Read a Case Law Report
If you are a law student who is aiming to perform well in the exams, you need to make sure that you are prepared for everything. Having said that, it is not that easy as there are a number of challenges that law students have to deal with on a daily basis when it comes to their course. One of those challenges is reading and understanding case law reports. Being able to read full case law reports is an important skill which you will sometimes have to use in law school, for example if you are set an essay or exam question about one specific case and the judgements in that case. Learning how to read case reports will also prepare you to practice law in real life.
The challenge is that case law reports often contain quite a difficult language that includes strictly legal jargon and technical terms. That's why many students struggle to read them properly. They have trouble in terms of understanding the parties involved in the case, what the case is about, and the rulings of the judge on the matter. Here are a few useful tips that will help you to read case law reports and understand them more easily.
Step 1: Read about the case in a revision guide or textbook
The first thing you can do instead of directly picking up the law report is to try to get the information about the case from some other sources that explain it in an easier language. For example, many revision notes and guides discuss law reports using layman terms and simple language, so you have a better chance of understanding what the case is about. This will also give you the information you need to understand what the case report is about even before reading it. Once you have developed an understanding of the case, you can start reading the case law report. Now that you are aware of the fundamental issue in the case, you will be in a better position to grasp difficult legal terms and make sense of the report.
NOTE: Make sure to check out the 1st Class Revision Notes if you are looking for easy to understand revision guides on different law subjects.
Step 2: Understand the facts well
When you are getting your information from a reading guide or any other source that explains the case in simpler terms, you need to focus on a few things to develop a deeper understanding of the law. Concentrate on the facts of the case instead of trying to read it as a story. Try not to have an opinion in favour of any party until you have gathered all the facts. Things you need to focus on include:
When you start reading case reports, you will notice that in each case report there is a lot of information and you might get overwhelmed. That's why it is very important for you to understand who the parties are and separate the facts of the case from the arguments made by the parties and the judgements.
Step 3: Identify the arguments of both parties
Once you know who the parties are and what their case is against each other, it is time to review their legal arguments. You have to keep in mind that not every argument can be a legal argument. There are many things that may make sense from a logical and rational point of view, but you cannot present them in court because they don't have any weight in the eyes of the law. That's why it is important to understand the factors that constitute a good legal argument.
In order to do that, read the legal arguments presented by both parties thoroughly and develop a good understanding of them. If you notice any weaknesses or flaws, note them down and discuss them later on with other law students or your lecturer. In the end, you should be able to understand how the suing party is arguing their case and how the defending party is attempting to counter or weaken those arguments with their own.
TIP: If you want to learn how to write first class law essays, check out the First Class Essay Writing Course.
Step 4: Find the decision in the case
Sometimes the arguments made by the judges don't align with your conventional wisdom and can be quite contradictory. That's why it can help if you first try to understand what decision was made in the case before trying to read the individual judgements given by the judges in the case report. For example, the judgements made by some of the judges might actually be against the decision in the case. This usually happens because one judge on the panel disagrees with the main judgement, but he or she is in the minority. However, their disagreement must be acknowledged when reading the judgement.
The most important point here is that different judges have different ways and methods of evaluating arguments and evidence. This is why they may reach different conclusions despite everything else being the same. This is something that you need to understand and acknowledge as a law student. Understanding it will also help you to get better at reading case law reports.
Step 5: Skim through the judgements
Many students, in their attempt to be thorough, try to read the entire judgement provided in the case report. More often than not, judgements contain a lot of information that is purely technical or includes ancillary notes of the judge which are not that relevant to the decision in the case. These things can distract and even confuse you while you are trying to make sense of everything and connect the dots.
Instead of attempting to read the whole judgement, just skim read through it first and highlight the parts which seem to be relevant to the decision. Then only read those specific parts. As you already know the facts and circumstances of the case as well as the arguments made by both the parties from the revision guide or a textbook, it will be easier for you to develop a thorough enough understanding of the those highlighted parts of the judgement.
Case law reports intimidate many law students, primarily due to the legal jargon and technical language used in the reports. By adopting a smart strategy, you can overcome that challenge and ensure that you understand all the facts, parties, arguments, and judgements of the case. If you are passionate about law, reading case law reports can be quite enjoyable as well as a great learning experience. You just need to make sure to do it the easy way!
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