About Me

Most universities hold a Freshers’ Week or a similar event. Its chief purpose is to help new students settle in quickly. As well as a series of informative talks, there is usually an energetic social programme and senior students will be around to help you to find your feet. Your university will probably send you an information pack ahead of your arrival.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

February - 5 reasons why you should read cases

Let’s start with a very basic question. Why should you read cases? After all, many law students can do an entire law degree without reading any cases whatsoever – they simply rely on textbooks and potted summaries of the law to get them through the course. I suppose there are five reasons why it’s important that you should read cases:

1 By reading cases you get an education in how lawyers think and reason. Read any case. Look at the facts of the case. Look at how the judge lays out the legal questions raised by those facts. Look at how he goes through the previously decided cases and statutes that are relevant to those legal questions. Look at how he discovers from those cases and statutes a legal rule or principle that can be used to resolve those questions. Look at how he checks that rule or principle to ensure that it is sound – that a special exception to it shouldn’t be created in this case reassured, applies the rule or principle and moves towards a conclusion. You will have to do exactly the same thing whenever you are asked to give an opinion as to what the law says in a particular situation. So reading cases helps educate you how to be a lawyer.What would we think of a trainee surgeon who, on being invited to watch a particularly tricky operation so that he can learn from the experience, replies, ‘Sorry, no – I never watch other people operating’? Well, a student who doesn’t read cases is no different.

2 Cases are treasure houses of important insights into the law. They contain hosts of observations from judges about:

* how the law should be reformed
* why the law should not be reformed in a certain way
* how the law might develop in the future
* what the law might say in certain hypothetical situations that might become the focus of a case (or a problem question in an exam) in the future
* what principles underlie the law
* why the law has developed in the way it has
* why the decision in a particular case that was decided in the past was fundamentally flawed with the result that the case should be ignored
* why a particular case that was decided in the past is extremely important

If you don’t read cases you are turning your back on all these insights and your notes will be much the poorer for it.

3 Reading cases encourages you to think about the law. If you read a line of cases, you start to think – how do these cases fit together? Does one principle underlie all of them or more than one? What principle or principles are at play here? By thinking in these terms, you enhance
your understanding of the law and your interest in it. If you don’t read cases, then you will miss out on lots of opportunities to deepen your understanding of the law and thereby increase your interest in it.

4 Reading cases helps you to see that in many situations, the legal outcome of a case was not fixed in stone before the case was ever heard. Both sides to a case may have good arguments on their side. It’s simply not possible in many cases to predict what the judge will say. Reading cases makes you realise this – and that, in turn, will make you
into a better student when answering problem questions.

5 Reading cases makes studying law more interesting than it otherwise would be. You get to see how the law has in the past impacted on real people’s lives, real people’s problems. The law comes to life in and through cases. Why wouldn’t you want to read cases? Cases are the soul
of the law – without them, the law can become very dull and turgid.

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