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#DearFindLaw: Should You Use Case Summaries for Law School?

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 07, 2014 12:20 PM

#DearFindLaw - Advice for New Lawyers and Law Students from @FindLawLP

We're getting into the second month of law school, and 1Ls have learned how the Socratic method works, what their professors want to hear, and presumably how to study.

So does this mean that it's time to slough off and use case supplements -- especially those with convenient case summaries?

Is there any value in using case summaries? Or are there other study aids you should be using in your quest to be No. 1?

Case Summaries: A Study Aid

Supplements containing case summaries can be valuable as a study aid if, for example, you don't understand the case for some reason or if the court's reasoning is pretty opaque. These are most useful when the case you've been asked to read is fairly old, containing strange 19th- or early 20th-century syntax and odious Lawyer Latin. And of course, there are just those times when judges go on long soliloquies that are only tangentially related to the case at hand.

If the question is "Should I rely on case summaries?," the answer is no. Case summaries do one thing: tell you what happened in the case and the holding. Case summaries get you through class, but they don't help with that most "law school" of goals, which is learning to think like a lawyer. By relying on case summaries, you're not exercising the skill of being able to distill information out of a case, which you'll have to do not only in practice but also on the bar exam.

Unfortunately, many students rely almost exclusively on case summaries when they should be reading the casebook -- and, unfortunately, it's often students most in need of practice reading a case who resort to summaries. This leads professors to Draconian policies like barring the use of summaries during class -- as in, "Don't let me catch you reading from a case summary when I call on you!"

Other Supplements

Beyond case summaries, other supplements try to help you learn the material, not just get you through being called on in class. Supplements like "Gilbert on [name of subject]" are useful because they also contain outlines. Now, let's have a talk here: You should absolutely be making your own outline. Only you know how you learn, and your outline should be designed to help you do that. When you use other people's outlines, you've got information organized in a foreign way, so don't use others' outlines until you've got a hold on the material.

With that being said, supplemental outlines are great because they may contain information that yours don't, or explain the material in a clearer way. Property class is particularly suited to supplemental materials because learning the obscure rules isn't easily accomplished by reading cases; really, Property is about the black-letter law.

Law students and recent grads, send us your questions! Write to us via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals) using the hashtag #DearFindLaw.

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