1L Law School Reading Assignments

If you have spent any time asking advice from law students who have completed their 1L law school year, you will frequently be told to keep up with the reading. As a 1L law student, from day one, you will have assigned reading for each class. Expect to have between 300 – 450 pages of assigned reading per week. Spending more than two hours reading for each class, may leave you wondering if there is a good short-cut for this process—there isn’t. In addition to the reading, you should be preparing notes on each case (briefs) for use during class and when studying for exams.

In general, about 90% of your 1L law school reading assignment will be comprised of cases. The cases that you are assigned are not going to be mundane. They are in your case book because they offer the 1L law student some benefit. Usually the cases stand for a rule of law, modify a rule of law, or misapply a rule of law. Some of the cases you will be assigned will be impossible to figure out. You will often be reading very detailed, lengthy cases. You will need to understand these cases backwards and forwards, in case you are called on in class. You will often need clarification and turn to a treatise or other secondary source for guidance. Do not skimp on class preparation.

What Strategy Should a 1L Law Student Use for Reading?

There are many different opinions on how to read cases most effectively. Some will suggest you read each case once, slowly. Others will recommend that you read cases twice at varying speeds. Some people write notes in the case book, others highlight.

We recommend that you experiment with different methods for reading cases and find what works best for you. Whatever method you decide on, you will need to understand the cases and be able to discuss them in class if called upon. Because you will have the case open in your book, putting some kind of notes or highlight on the page can often be useful.

You should never be tempted to skim the reading. You will not be able to get the points of the case by skimming. Do your best to understand the story of the case. Some find it useful to visualize the facts. Others like to draw pictures. Regardless, read actively. Have a legal dictionary handy (here’s a cheap pocket version). Professors like to ask 1L law students about the meaning of obscure terms. If you haven’t done so, familiarize yourself with the Law School Coach 1L Law School Dictionary. It contains many of the basic terms you will need to know.

How to Brief a 1L Law School Case

A 1L case brief is a short summary and analysis of the assigned case that you will prepare for class (and later use to study). It is a set of notes that presents information in a systematic way so that you can quickly make sense of a case. Case briefing is an essential skill that you will use repeatedly throughout your career as a lawyer. If you want to do well during your 1L law school year, you have to brief your cases.
Briefing the cases has four major benefits. First, briefing teaches you the rules of law. Second, they familiarize you with the mechanisms of how courts work. Third, they give you practice at a skill you will need as a lawyer. And, finally, they prepare you for the class discussion.
Some will tell you that case briefs have 6 elements, others 7 or 8. Our recommendation is that you tailor the brief to both the professor and your personal preferences. At a minimum, each case brief should have:
  • Facts
  • Issue
  • Reasoning
  • Holding
In addition, you can add procedural history, court/date, concurring/dissenting opinion, rule of law, etc… You should decide whether to do the brief as you read the case, or whether it works better to read the case fully before briefing.

Each time you read a case, make it your job to pull out the essential elements, think about them, and put them in your own words. You may find it helpful to brief your cases on the computer. If you do this, our suggestion is to type your briefs in a different color. Then, in class, add whatever you need to in standard black type. That way, you will start to see what you have left out of the brief. Stylistically, you also want to abbreviate the parties’ names. Some people use P for plaintiff and D for defendant. Others—with the help of shortcut keys—use π (pi) for plaintiff, and Δ (delta) for defendant.