Monday, September 21, 2015

Should law students stop briefing cases for class? Addendum

I strongly disagree with Professor Varol that first-year law students should stop briefing cases.  When done right, briefing cases helps students develop the ability to "think like a lawyer."  By briefing a case, a student learns how judges reason so that they can do the same thing. While briefing is not directly tested, what students learn by briefing does affect how well they do on exams, including the bar.

Learning black letter law is not enough.  Lawyers have to understand the policy behind the rules and be able to apply them to facts.

Of course, briefing cases mechanically, as is often the case, is a waste of time. For a method of reading and analyzing cases effectively see Chapter Two of my book, Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Legal Professionals (ABA Pub. 2013).

The most important thing in briefing is to understand the reasoning. Look at how the judge went from the existing rule to the new one. Look at how the judge applied the law to the facts.  What kind of legal reasoning did the judge use?

(Scott Fruehwald)

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To a great extent, first-year students briefing cases is a waste of time because they don't know enough to be able to do it well. That's because of the casebook method. If law students are unprepared to practice, it's primarily because time wasted with the casebook method. Notice I'm not indicting the use of the Socratic method (instructors asking questions). I'm indicting the casebook method. I'm also not suggesting that the casebook method is totally worthless. First-year students simply don't know enough law to learn very well from it.

Posted by: John Hightower | Sep 22, 2015 2:59:05 PM

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