Reading Legal Cases
Last week, I shared my reading technique for academic writing with you guys. I already mentioned in that video that this technique works very well with academic writing, but less well with caselaw. Judgements are structured very differently and you need to develop a different reading strategy for cases in order to save time when reading them.
Whenever I read through a legal case and it is a case that is reported in a law report (a collection of legal cases with summaries of the cases), I go over the headnote first to get an introduction to the case. Headnotes are great as introductions, but you should never treat them as sufficient summaries. Headnotes are meant to be short and this means that they will inevitably leave out some details that may prove important if you wish to apply the case to a different scenario. After reading the headnote of a case, I usually draw a quick diagram on Notability on my iPad. This diagram helps me map out the scenario and any key actions and legislations. I also write down the main issues raised in the case. Here is what my diagram for the Fire Brigades Union case looks like:
You can also download the diagram as a PDF here.
As you can see, the diagram is pretty simple and only maps out the big picture of the case. The reason for the simplicity of the diagram is that I want to be able to quickly refer to the diagram while reading the judgement(s) of a case. The diagram helps me keep the big picture in mind and see where details I read about fit into the facts of the case.
Once my diagram is done, I decide which judgement I am going to read. Sometimes, I am only interested in the legal reasoning that decided the case - then, the leading judgement is all I have to read. But when I am interested in more than that, I have to read all the judgements. I would recommend summarising the key legal reasoning of each judgement in one to two sentences. This ensures that you understand the argument and do not include any unnecessary details. Here is what my summary for the Fire Brigades Union Case looks like:
You can also download this summary as a PDF here.
Reading cases will inevitably take a lot of time and all you can do is find a strategy to make it a little bit faster. I found that the more cases I read, the easier it became for me to decide which judgements to read and to know when to skip a few paragraphs because the discussion was not about what I was interested in.
I hope you guys found this helpful! If you are a law student and interested in material helping your revision, you might be interested my new website Elena Makes Sense of Law! It is a page about undergraduate legal topics and I created it to help fellow law students with their revision!
Lots of Love,