Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Teaching Students How to Read Cases

I once heard a story that Karl Llwellyn once proclaimed that he would or should read all judicial opinions of American courts issued in a single calendar year. I don't know if he ever actually tried doing this. Doing this would no longer be even imaginable today.

I think I also heard (from more than one source) that Karl Llewellyn devoted some or all of his class sessions to careful reading and discussion of every last detail of judicial opinions (and that he sometimes or often stormed out of the classroom when students weren't prepared or when he found their comments and arguments unsatisfactory).

I have been thinking about Karl Llewellyn because in recent years -- indeed, for many years -- I have been disturbed by how little law students (even very smart law students) seem attuned to the nuances of the judicial opinions they (supposedly) read.

So perhaps I should try to do something about this problem.

  • Perhaps I have the necessary qualifications to do something. I did practice law for a while. But I really learned how to read cases carefully when I worked for James H. Chadbourn while he was revising various Wigmore volumes and when I did my own revision of one of the Wigmore volumes.
  • In some academic quarters, reading judicial opinions is not fashionable. But it is a great mistake for ostensible law teachers to forget (or never learn) how to read cases. This is not only because law schools are expected to help prepare students for law practice. It is also because in real-world judicial opinions there are many (interesting & important) notions and arguments that cannot readily be converted into or captured by the preferred formal argument of the day.
  • Perhaps I can combine my plan to have students present and defend particular constitutional perspectives (relating to criminal procedure) with the objective of teaching students how to read and interpret full-bodied judicial opinions. I'll have to think about this. (I don't want to turn my criminal procedure course into an "elements of law" course.)

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    The dynamic evidence page

    It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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