When I was at law school I was able to cruise by without reading cases. And in fact, that’s a great way to describe my attitude towards my studies: cruise. I wasn’t particularly interested in what I was studying and found it difficult to see how the concepts I was studying translated to real life. That was until I started gaining work experience and I saw first hand how cases and legislation had real world implications on real people. And this is when I began to learn that being able to read case law is so, so important because when you’re going ahead with a matter one of the first things you’ll be asked to do is to find analogous cases.
Being able to read a case and to pick out the most relevant points to you is a skill learned over time. It can’t really be taught and takes a fair amount of practice. Every time I read a case, I learn something new.
Here are the reasons for why you should set aside some time to read cases:
It helps you learn how to communicate like a lawyer
This was the greatest benefit that I gained from reading cases. Every time I read a case, I pick up words to add to my vocabulary, new ideas on how to convey a particular message, and examples on how I should structure my work so my work can be better understood.
It helps you develop your analytical skills
Reading cases means you gain a first-hand insight into the way a judge would analyse a set of facts and apply the law to them. No cheat sheet can do this for you! An added bonus when reading cases is you will also be able to read the dissenting judgment (something study guides and charts often leave out), which can help you gain a more rounded exposure to the issues of the case and give you an idea of the alternative ways you could think about a particular issue.
I’m sensing some scepticism here. But see for yourself: next time you’re at work or just doing some browsing at home and you come across a law news story that’s interesting to you, plug in the party names into a legal database (Austlii is my go-to) and see what you can dig up.
You will never regret extending yourself and learning something new. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the process of learning how to read cases and then applying the knowledge I’ve gained from that process to my work and personal life. You’ll be surprised how often something you’ve learned from a case will just come up in conversation!
I understand you might not have studied law, or just need a refresher on how to approach the task of reading cases: my next blog post will be called “How to Read Cases” and will give you some pointers on where to get started.
Looking forward to seeing you again here on the Workplace Space.