3.4 – Different Components of a Case


Components of a Case

We've been talking about how you really need to read carefully, and the thing you're going to be reading the most in law school is going to be cases, particularly, edited legal opinions, usually appellate opinions, but not always from appellate courts, that are going to be in your casebooks. In this lesson, I'm going to walk you through how to read a case, and really teach you about the different components of a case.

The first few times you read cases, and really the first few dozen times you read cases, it's going to be slow. It's going to take you a while, there's a lot of things you're just not going to understand, and you're not going to really know how to read strategically to figure out what the important stuff is quickly.

It's going to get a lot easier. You're going to get a lot better at it. It's going to start going faster. It's going to take a little while, but the purpose of these lessons is to jumpstart that process a little bit, and to give you some shortcuts to know what to look for, and how to decipher the language of the law, because law really is its own language, in a sense, it's going to have its own specialized vocabulary. It's going to lay out information in a unique way, and the more you encounter it, the easier it's going to be for you to decipher it and really understand what's going on when you read a case.

My goal is really to speed up for you the process of becoming a master of reading cases quickly, and knowing what's important, and really cutting to the heart of what's important in a case. You're going to have a lot of questions when you read cases. These lessons are not going to answer all of those questions for you with respect to how any given case is going to present them, but it's at least going to help you figure out where to look for the answers and what questions you should be asking in your own mind as you read every new case in your casebook.

Way Forward

To help us with that process, I'm going to use an example case. It was a case called United States v. Jewell, that I have edited, trimmed down a little bit the same way a casebook author would trim down a case, and this is actually a case that appears in some leading criminal law casebooks. It's a pretty interesting little case about the knowledge requirement and criminal statutes. You don't have to have read it to understand the things I'm going to tell you, because I'm going to give you more general advice, but you will get the most out of the following few mini lessons if you have the case. If you've read the case, and you have it in front of you.

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