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The students of DePaul College of Law asked, and Assistant Dean Ruta Stropus answered. PROFESSORS’ EXPECTATIONS � How do we pick out the important material in cases after only one week in law school? You can’t. The first three weeks of law school should be spent reading carefully and adjusting to class discussion and the demands of your schedule. Wait until some time has elapsed before you try to put the pieces together. You can’t run a marathon unless you’ve trained properly. Similarly, you cannot begin preparing for a final exam before you have had an opportunity to learn the fundamentals about reading, briefing and class discussion. � For what purpose are the briefs? You should brief your cases for three purposes: (1) to practice dissecting a case (which will help you later when dissecting and writing an exam), (2) to prepare you for class, and (3) to use later when creating an outline. By spending the time to brief now, you will begin practicing the skills you need for the final exam and you will use some of that information later to help you create an outline for the course. � What exactly is expected of you when you get to class? The professor expects that you have (1) read the case and (2) briefed it and therefore have identified the issue, rule, application and conclusion. In class, most professors will not spend time going over the case — instead, they want to take the case and “play” with it — what if this fact or that one was different? Would the result be the same? Why or why not? This type of questioning helps prepare you for the exam where you will have to apply the rules you’ve learned to a different set of facts. � After reading the cases, how do you prepare for in-class discussion? Make sure you read and brief every case. Discuss the case with a study group. Think in terms of the big picture — what was this case supposed to teach me? What do I know about “x” that I didn’t know before reading this case? Then, see if you can’t anticipate some of the professor’s hypotheticals. What facts, if changed, would have changed the court’s holding, and why? � What more should we look for in the case, other than what it is generally about? Key in on the court’s rationale. Make sure you know WHY the court made the decision it did. What were the key facts and rules that it used in coming to a decision? CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT � What can I do to adjust to the Socratic method? Try to realize that your professors are trying to challenge your mind to go further. You can think of every class discussion as an additional mile in a marathon — if you have been able to come this far, you can go a little farther. Your professors want to help you look beyond the written words and be precise in your understanding of the rules and the application of those rules. That is why the questions are hard and the discussion difficult. � I don’t understand “bluebooking.” The Bluebook can be frustrating, but once you adapt to it, no other manual of citation will be sufficient. Because it covers so many sources, the Bluebook is very comprehensive, but in the beginning, focus on the fundamentals: how do I cite cases? Statutes? How do I short-cite? � There are a lot of people in my class who are “freaked out” about law school. I study really hard, but they are making me nervous and give me a feeling that they may try to screw me over. Should I avoid these people? YES! You should avoid those people like the plague. You are here to learn and succeed, and you do not need people who will get in your way. If you are experiencing a great deal of stress, seek help from your school’s counseling center. � I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and can barely keep up during the class discussion. I sometimes feel that I have missed the whole point of the case. What can I do to better prepare for class? First, recognize that everyone feels this way. Class discussion assumes that you read and understood the case ON YOUR OWN. In class is the time to take your understanding one step further. Make sure you read and brief each case, and be patient with yourself — class discussion will begin to echo matters you noted in your reading and briefing. STUDY ISSUES � How can I figure out how well I’m doing and what standard do I use to measure myself against? You can make sure you are on track by outlining early. If you outline early, you can begin to tackle some practice exams in early November and check your progress and understanding of the law. � How do we put together the cases and materials we learned for a test we will take three months from now? How will all the rules come together at the end of the semester? You will need to put together your own big picture by creating an outline. Outlining will help you to understand how all the rules fit together and help prepare you for the final exam. � How do I manage my time effectively? You must figure out what works best for you, set a strategy and a schedule and stick to it. � I don’t have enough time to brief all my cases. What should I do? Evaluate where you are spending the most time. Are you reading the case five times before attempting to brief it? Are you focusing on just the case while studying, or are your thoughts drifting to other subjects as well? There is no substitute for briefing; it must be done. � Why are we inundated with so much reading? This cuts into our sleeping time and decreases our ability to learn in class. Lawyers read and process an incredible amount of information daily. Thus, as law students, you need to begin the process of learning how to read cases. Again, take an inventory of how you are spending your time. How many times are you reading a case? Are you focused when you read? Do you get some context before reading? It might be that you can balance law school and sleep if you spend your time wisely. Come and see us for a personalized inventory. � Why does it take me 10 minutes a page to read “Constitutional Law”? Constitutional law and civil procedure are very difficult subjects to comprehend. Unlike contracts and torts (which feel somewhat familiar), constitutional law and civil procedure are new and foreign. Often, the cases are old and written in antiquated language. Try to focus. Rather than get caught up in all the details, ask yourself the three questions: (1) What was this case supposed to teach me? (2) What did it teach me:? and (3) How does it fit with the case I read yesterday and the one I’ll read tomorrow? � I find the cases to be verbose and foggy. Why aren’t cases written in plain English? Language has evolved over time. The “plain English” movement has recently gained momentum and, thus, more modern cases are written in plain English. On the other hand, a lawyer’s only tool is language — thus, begin to notice how words are used. Become a lover of language. � What are some of the abbreviations in the case, e.g. supra, etc.? The Bluebook explains much of these; “e.g.” stands for “for example” and “supra” stands for “cited earlier.” Once you learn the Bluebook, the abbreviations will make sense. � Should I memorize the Latin words? Not necessarily. The professor will key you in on the ones you need to memorize. If she uses the Latin term, you should memorize it. � How do I summarize the reasoning of the court? Should I use my own words or try to use the language of the opinion of the court? By paraphrasing (rather than copying), you learn the case. The process of taking a court’s words and putting them into your own makes you think carefully about what the court was saying. DISSECTING CASES: ISSUES, RULES, & MORE � Which facts are relevant? To decide which facts are relevant, begin with the issue. If the issue is enforceability of releases, then only the facts that deal with circumstances surrounding the release are relevant. Use the 5 W’s: Who prepared the release and who signed it? When did she sign? What did she sign? Why did she sign it? Where? How was she injured? A good check on whether you’ve included only relevant facts is to look at your application section. Did you mention facts in the application section that you did not mention in the fact section? If so, those facts also belong in the fact section. Did you have facts in the fact section that where not applied in the application section? If so, the fact is either irrelevant or you forgot to apply it in the application section. � Why aren’t procedural facts relevant? In all cases the generic issue is whether the trial court erred. But that’s not the appealable legal issue. In all cases, lawyers have to decide the basis of their appeal. Why are they appealing this case? They must identify an error of law made by the trial court. What is the precise error of law that is the subject of this case? A brief should highlight the substantive legal issue. As a side note it might be interesting how the case got to the appellate court, but the real question is WHY is it here and WHAT is the problem. � How can I spot the “correct” issues, so as not to find more issues than actually exist? Before you read a case, you can figure out what it is supposed to teach you by looking at the table of contents and/or syllabus. Find out exactly what the case is supposed to be about and then you should be able to pick out the “correct” issue in the case. � How do I know which rules to put in to the rule section? Look back to your issue. If the issue is enforceability of releases, then the rules should ALL deal with enforceability of releases. The true challenge, once you’ve gathered the rules, is to sort them out in some type of order. Which are the main rules? Which are sub-rules? The case should help you organize the rules. � How do I pick out the rules and how do I apply them to a specific case? After identifying the rules, you need to apply each and every one of them to the case at hand. In other words, if the first rule is that releases are interpreted against the drafter, then how is it in this case that the release was interpreted in the light most favorable to the reader (and not the drafter) of the release? � How do you keep rules and application separate? In the rules section, you simply want to state the generic rules governing this particular issue. In other words, what are the general rules regarding the enforceability of releases. In the application section you are discussing THIS case. So a rule is “to be enforceable, a release must be supported by consideration.” An application of this rule would be: “In this case the release was not supported by consideration because there was nothing of value exchanged between the parties. Plaintiff did not sign the release in return for the privilege of taking the exam; she had to take the exam in order to complete her application for employment.” � How do you apply the rules to the facts? If, in the rules section, you did a good job of outlining the rules and how they fit together, then the application section should go fairly smoothly. In the application, go back to each and every rule previously listed and apply it to your facts. The sentences in the application should look like: First rule is (is not) satisfied because of these facts. Second rule is (is not) satisfied because of these facts. � Why not cite cases in the rules section? Usually you don’t cite cases in your brief because (1) if the brief is for class, then there is no need to cite cases because you need not recite case names on the exam; (2) if you are briefing for legal writing, although you need to cite in your paper where a particular rule came from, you cite the authority where you found it, as opposed to the one cited. For example, in White, the court notes that a waiver must be supported by consideration to be unenforceable, and then follows this with cites. If you wanted to refer to that proposition in your memo you would do it this way. “A waiver must be supported by consideration to be enforceable.” White or you would look up the case cited by White, READ IT and cite it instead. � How do we extract the theories behind the reasoning in the cases? Look for overall themes from several cases. You may not be able to extract the theory behind the reasoning right away — but it might become clear after reading a few cases. Also think about the implications of the decision — who is this going to affect in the long run — poor people, rich people, government, schools, students — and how will it affect that group? That might help you extract the theory behind the reasoning. � What is the difference between a judge’s opinion and a rule? In most cases, the opinion of the judge writing the majority opinion becomes “the law.” However, if the judge is writing a dissent or concurrence, then her opinion is just that, an opinion, and not the law of the land. � How should I brief my cases? You should brief your cases keeping in mind two purposes: (1) to practice dissecting a case (which will help you later when dissecting and writing an exam), and (2) to prepare you for class. You need enough information to give you the basics for class discussion: the facts, issue, rule(s), application or reasoning and the conclusion. If you find that your professor asks for more information, such as procedural history, then you should include this information in your briefs. Ruta Stropus is an Assistant Dean with DePaul College of Law. Reprinted with permission from the DePaul College of Law Academic Support Program Web site. To read other useful tips, go to http://www.law.depaul.edu/.

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