Casebooks Galore


Casebook—A book containing a selection of source materials on a particular subject, esp. one used as a reference work or in teaching."

-Black’s Law Dictionary

If you’re in law school, then you’ve come to have a love-hate relationship with what we call casebooks.  If you’re not in law school, then you’re probably wondering what a casebook is.  Well, it’s basically a giant book (in the case of my Con Law book, almost 2000 pages!) that’s filled with court opinions that teach you the law.  In addition to being giant, they can be very expensive so read on to see how I save some money on them.

Where I Buy My Casebooks

Last semester, I didn’t find out my finalized schedule until the first day of orientation, which put a little damper on buying my books prior to orientation.  That meant that I had to buy my books at the bookstore, and campus bookstores typically sell books at the full retail value, which gets very pricey.  Luckily, at my school, they have a price match program that allows you to pay the full price for the book but get the difference between the full retail price and the lower price.  While it still sounds expensive, I used the difference for other books, like one only sold at the bookstore so it ended up working out in my favor. 

This semester I bought all of my books on Amazon and  I’m a little particular about any book I buy in general, which means I really don’t like used books.  In law school, I think this pet peeve of mine has grown.  As you’ll read below, law students love to color code their highlighting.  Color coded highlighting means that a lot of used books are filled with highlights and notes in the margin.  So I absolutely loathe used law school casebooks, but used books are cheaper than brand new books.

If you’re like me, then I have some advice for you.  Check out the “Used – Like New” or “New” books on the Amazon Marketplace.  Some sellers even let you know if there are any marks within the book.  But a word of caution, some sellers aren’t the best with responding and this semester, I even had to request refunds from multiple sellers because my books never came.  However, I did get a brand new book on Amazon for $19 including shipping. 

My Reading Process

So once you have your books, you might be wondering how to use them.  Law school casebooks are nothing like you’ve ever seen before.  Typically a textbook will give you all of the important information explicitly; most casebooks are the complete opposite.  There are some casebooks that are a little more explicit about black letter law and it’s important to know the difference as that can change how you approach book briefing.

As I was researching law school last summer, I came across this post on Brazen and Brunette about how she read her casebooks.  I really liked how she broke up each important set of information in a case so I adapted her system to fit my own needs.  I personally don’t use as many colors as are mentioned in her post, but I do know people who do and it seems to work for them.  As you can see in the picture below, I use a five color system:  one for facts, issue/holding, reasoning, procedural history, and other cases.  I picked the colors the way I did because of a few different reasons.  Yellow is the universal highlighter color and colors like green and blue make text hard to read.

I love using this type of system for highlighting cases because it makes information pop out at you, especially if you don’t have time to actually write out a case brief (not saying that you shouldn’t write out case briefs!).  There have been plenty of times in class where the person being cold called has to search through the case for information, but I already know what the answer is because of the color it is highlighted.  Like I mentioned earlier, my system is a little different for my casebooks that are more explicit with the blackletter law.  In many of those books, the cases act more as examples of the law than for pulling a rule from a case.  In the cases in those types of books, I may not highlight a holding since it’s not actually written out in the case.  Below is an example of my system in action for a Property case:

Sometimes I get a little too highlight happy, which is definitely something to be aware of while you’re reading.  There have been many times were I highlight something the wrong color or highlight information that’s not relevant to the holding of the case.  A tip to help this is to skim the case prior to highlighting as to get a sense for what the court decided first and then highlight information that is consistent with that decision.  

Hopefully some of this information is helpful to you and that you can use it to make reading casebooks easier for you!  Comment below with any of your tips and tricks about how you read the myriad of cases law school exposes you to!

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