As Joe Jamail rightly states, “Your attitude will go a long way in determining your success, your recognition, your reputation and your enjoyment in being a lawyer”.
Why is reading important?
Improved understanding, gaining experience, boosting imagination, critical action and of course challenging the unknown are a few answers which come to mind. Do not forget the power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the e law.4
‘Critical Reading Skills’ are advanced on four principles –
Comprehend, Analyse critically, Interpret and Evaluate.
The ability to ‘critically read legal documents’ is a fundamental threshold skill that all law students should start developing from day one at Law School. In Law, words are used in a way for a precise reason. For, do remember the main business of a lawyer is to take the romance, the mystery, the irony, the ambiguity out of everything he touches.1
To gain this insight ‘Domain Knowledge’ is crucial.
Why did Oliver Windall Holmer, JR (1841-1935) US, S.C Justice famously once say “This is a court of Law, young man not a court of Justice”.
For as Thomas Jefferson put it “A lawyer without books without be like a workman without tools”.
Takeaway 1. – Read case laws
What is the difference between ‘murder’ and ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’?
Is law and Justice not the same?
The finer art of distinguishing between the two is attained only by reading case law wherein legal facts are spelled out and legal rules applied based on legal precedents thereby enhancing legal reasoning.
Takeaway – 2. Avoid Google Search
Please do not commit the error of confusing ‘Google search’ as the stepping stone to a Law degree! After all, the leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every calling, is diligence.2
Takeaway 3. – Study the procedural history of the same
The ‘Art of Drafting’ is also mastered by reading not just previous drafts on the same topic (for example Wills, Power of Attorney, etc) and gaining insight but also from going into the procedural history of the same.
The ability to read a legal opinion accurately to determine the real intent of the author is the sine qua non of mastering the technique of legal reading.
Takeaway – 4. Take notes while reading
Critical reading technique is further enhanced when we take notes while reading, read with a focus and always analyse the reading.
Takeaway – 5. Focus on Time Management
Not to forget an important area of focus – Time Management. Remember the amount of time taken to assimilate and analyse the legal text begins to improve with the increase in the quantum of material read.
Takeaway – 6. Apply knowledge practically
Mere reading is useless unless the knowledge gained is applied practically after analysing the data by critical thinking.
Takeaway- 7. Give Regard to non-legal texts
The students learn to think like lawyers through the experience of reading legal texts through the lens of law. This by no means advocates that one should skip reading non-legal texts. That too is essential for developing oratorial and comprehension skills.
The best advice that a lawyer can get is that knowledge is power – keep reading.3 To conclude, do begin your journey into this noble profession by improving and incorporating the correct legal reading skills.
Carpe Diem, Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit, Amicus Meus! [Meaning in Latin -Seize the day, For From Nothing Comes Nothing, My Friend! ]
References and Further Readings :
- Quote by Antonin Scalia.
- Quote by Abraham Lincoln.
- Quote by David Bailey.
- Quote by Jeremy Bentham.
- Paper on ‘Critical Reading Techniques for Law School Success’ by Jane Bloom Grise, Director Academic Success, University of Kentucky, College of Law, 2014.
- Paper on ‘Challenges of Legal Reading’ by Leah M. Christensen, Asst. Prof. of Law, University of St. Thomas Law School, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, B.A.
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