In order to become an effective lawyer, you need to train your mind, not just to absorb the information, but to dissect, analyze and challenge it.
As a law student, you should have a mind set that you will be required to do a lot of reading. This is the most scariest part of it, yet the most known and the least practiced. The only difference between a good law student and an average law student is, a good law student will always have a say, an opinion, on everything substantiated by facts that he has absorbed and interpreted after doing a lot of reading. Most average law students fail to do so.
Here are some of the things you must practice consistently to scale up faster than your peers while in a law school.
1. READING CASES
2. READING & INTERPRETING STATUTES
3. MANAGING A LOT OF COMPLEX MATERIALS
4. READING A NEWS PAPER DAILY
- READING CASES:
The art of casereading is one of the most significant common-law lawyerly skills.
A case on its own is not very informative. The question you should ask yourself is: what does this case add to what I already know about the law in this area? The process of case reading is a spiraling process which means that every time you go back and read the case you find more. Therefore you should never think your brief of a case is final. Do a rough brief before class. After discussion has confirmed, illuminated and/or altered your view of it, redo the brief.
ONE WAY TO BRIEF A CASE.
- Read it all through without writing anything down.
- Now read it again.
- Write the citation: Write the case name and citation accurately. Make sure you have the name of the court and the date. Also add your text reference or reference in your notes so you can find it again.
- Facts of the case: You should leave this blank or merely sketched in at this stage and come back to it. The material facts can only be established once you are clear about the issues in the case.
- Remedy sought: What did the plaintiff/applicant/appellant want?
- Prior proceedings: What happened in the court (s) below?
- Arguments of the parties: Establishing the arguments will help you decide what the legal issue is.
- Grounds of appeal: This may have been established by the arguments. This is another indicator of the legal issues.
- Issue: What is the legal issue which the court has to decide?
- Outcome or decision: Who won the case? Was the appeal allowed or denied?
- Legal Reasoning: The process of reasoning used by the judges to come to their decision. Trace their arguments through.
- Ratio Decidendi: The ratio decidendi is the principle of law or the legal reason which was necessary for the court to come to its decision. There are narrow and broad views of the ratio decidendi. This may require you to compare different opinions of several judges.
- Obiter dicta: Obiter dicta refers to other things the judge(s) said which were of interest but were not necessary for the decision which was made.
- Notes: Your notes about what difference this case made to your knowledge of this area of law; how the case is significant etc.
ANOTHER WAY – THE MINIMUM BRIEF (not as thorough but better than nothing):
- Read the case through first by scanning.
- Read through again slowly.
- Material facts – set out the material facts ie the ones which are significant for the law the case concerns.
- Issue(s) – set out the questions the judges have to answer.
- Ratio decidendi – what rule did the judge use to answer the question?
- Outcome of the case – who won.
2. READING STATUTES
An increasingly large proportion of the law now exists in statutory form. You will do classes on statutory interpretation. For now, this is a basic account of what you should do when you encounter a statute.
- Look at the name of the statute.
- Identify the Short Title of the Statute. Often one of the first sections in the Act will say ‘this Act may be cited as ‘Short Title’.
- Identify the Long Title of the statute – this often begins ‘An Act for the purpose of [x] ….and for related purposes’
- Make sure you know what the jurisdiction is (eg Commonwealth or NSW) and date of the statute.
- Look at the table of contents. This will give you an overview of the material covered by the statute.
- Look at the definition section of the Act. Some Acts have more than one definition section, or there may be particular definitions for within a certain part of an Act. Take note of these.
- When looking at any section of an Act pay attention to the connecting words as well as the substantive words – words like ‘until’, ‘but’, ‘and’ ‘or’ and so on are extremely important for the logical interpretation of the words in the act.
- Read the words of the act looking for their ordinary natural meaning first. In many cases you will not have to go further than this.
- For ordinary words in the Act an English dictionary is useful.
- Note that many words have specific meanings in Acts which they may not have in English because the Act Interpretation Act of the jurisdiction has said so. These words include ‘shall’, ‘may’, and ‘minister’ etc. Such acts also define some ordinary words such as ‘day’, ‘month’ etc .
- Generally when a problem arises in relation to an Act there will be a selection of sections from that Act which are particularly significant for that problem. You need to read the Act with the problem in mind, rather than trying to read the Act like a story.
- The art of statutory interpretation is a major skill you will learn during your law degree. The basic principles are to read the act in its ordinary meaning and to determine what parliament intended by the words. Since the passing of the Acts Interpretation Acts in Australia it has been possible to look at material extrinsic to the Act itself, such as the Second Reading Speech of the Minister introducing the legislation into parliament, to help determine parliament’s intention.
3. MANAGING LARGE AMOUNTS OF COMPLEX MATERIAL
One of the major skills that is needed to do a law degree is to learn to manage large amounts of complex material. Some of these skills you will have already, but here is one way you can surely do that.
Skimming – skim through the material trying to figure out what its main thrust is.
Mark up the paragraphs, giving subheadings – if you put subheadings next to each paragraph saying what that paragraph is about you will have done two things – first, worked out what the paragraph is about and second, marked it so that you can come back to it and point to where that point is made. This is particularly useful in law where it is important to know exactly where things came from.
Make a summary by putting together all your paragraph heading
4. READING NEWSPAPER DAILY
This is the most important practice that demands a lot of patience. It is the most easiest and quickest way to distinguish yourself as a law student from a crowd of thousands. Most people know it but less people do it. Make a thin copy, try to jot down a summary of all the news you read in a day. Slowly you will be working your brains harder and sharpening your memory. This has a broader impact than what can actually be anticipated.
PRACTISE THESE DAILY AND REALIZE THE DIFFERENCE.