The amount of reading in law school is one of the first things that prospective law school students typically hear about. Law school readings are truly like night and day if you are coming straight out of undergrad.
This article will explain what law students can typically expect from a week’s worth of reading assignments, and I will also delve into some strategies for managing a high law school reading load.
How Bad Are the Readings Really?
I hate to do it, but I am going to have to give you the quintessential lawyerly answer “it depends”. It depends on what year you are, the class, and your professor.
Overall, 1L year was significantly heavier on the readings than 2L and 3L have been for me. This is pretty much universal for any law student. Not only will 1Ls usually have more readings but it also takes significantly longer to sift through them.
Reading casebooks is different from the readings you did in undergrad. I was a Criminology major and I took my fair share of case-heavy courses, and I still struggled to keep up with readings during my Fall semester of 1L year. The good news is that law school readings become easier to complete as you progress through 1L year.
My casebook readings have varied a lot depending on the class and professor I had. Torts and Property Law my 1L year were by far the worst. I could expect to read at least thirty pages for each class and we met three times a week. On the other hand Civil Procedure and Criminal Law were relatively light, frequently requiring less than fifteen pages a class.
I am not trying to indicate that your Civil Procedure and Criminal Law courses will be a walk in the park. On the contrary, my Civil Procedure professor was known as the most easy-going professor when it came to reading assignments and my Criminal Law professor was new. I have yet to hear however from someone that said there Property readings were light, and there is so much to cover in that course, so it is pretty safe to say that your Property class will be heavy.
2L and 3L Readings
It’s not necessarily that professors assign fewer readings in higher-level courses, it’s more accurate to say that most students just don’t read as diligently. “As diligently” is probably a gross understatement. It would be more accurate to say that many of us simply don’t do the readings or skim portions of them.
I took Administrative Law my 2L year and it was by far the worst class I have taken for reading assignments. It was a three-credit course two days a week, and my professor would assign anywhere between 50-70 pages a class. It was insane and the readings were dry as a bone. No one ever did their readings, and I did not catch up until two weeks before exams.
That being said, Administrative law was exceptionally heavy on reading, and if I was not insane I would have followed in my classmates’ footsteps and never read.
How to Manage Your Readings
It’s a challenge for 1Ls to manage the immense amount of reading assignments they are given weekly. Especially when you combine them with all of the extracurriculars going on at the law school.
For the first few weeks of law school most students feel that they need to get everything down to a T out of anxiety for cold calls. Luckily this feeling quickly dissipates and does not really come back until a few weeks before your Fall semester final exams.
After the first few weeks of school you need to figure out a way to manage those pesky readings or you are going to go crazy spending all your time preparing for class. Here are some tips that I have used throughout law school and some others that I have seen people use effectively.
1) Set a time/day to complete your readings and don’t back out of it.
An acknowledged weakness of mine is that I will avoid work that I don’t enjoy doing by working on other things, making excuses or socializing with friends. I realized very quickly in law school that if I was going to perform well I was going to have to be dedicated in my readings.
I looked at my schedule and decided that Thursday/Friday would be my going out nights, and Sunday I would spend the entire day completing readings and writing case briefs. Sounds crazy right, to ram through most of my readings for the week in one 12-14 hour shift?
Yeah it was crazy but it works for me. I certainly don’t recommend it to most people, but scheduling times to study and sticking to that schedule works whether you are doing it all in a one or two day period, or if you are spending a few hours five days a week reading.
2) Stay away from writing story length case briefs.
It’s really difficult for some students to cut down on their case briefs. Writing a 5-10 page case brief, however, takes far too long and it actually works against you when it comes time for exam outlining and you have to break down your gargantuan case briefs.
Try to keep your case briefs under 2 full-length pages. For some lengthy and important cases that may be impossible, but for the vast majority of case briefs, 1-2 pages will do it.
3) Practice Your Active Reading
I hate to mention active reading because I feel like everybody does, but I have to mention a few things that help me and you can label them under “active reading”. Whether you bought the casebook or you are reading a pdf you can still write questions and comments on the side. If you are a 1L you are going to have questions as you read cases. I write questions all the time on the edges of my readings because it helps me better understand what I am reading.
Underlining/highlighting is an extremely useful practice but it is WAY OVERUSED. Highlighting is a complete waste of time if half of your case is highlighted. Instead, I use a highlighter to find a few sentences within a case that I think are the most important and represent the court’s holding the best. This practice also makes it easier for you to respond on the fly to cold calls.
Avoid the Reading Trap
The general rule is to spend an hour to two hours of reading for each hour of class time. This varies of course, sometimes professors assign considerably more than two hours’ worth of reading and sometimes they assign considerably less. However, it’s a good general rule of thumb.
If you are consistently spending significantly more than two hours of reading for every hour of class time than there’s a problem and it needs to be fixed ASAP! Are you doing anything obviously time-consuming like reading everything twice or at least reading cases twice? Don’t do that, it takes too much time. Once in a blue moon you can read a case twice if its an exceptionally complicated or old case, but do not make it a habit.
Professors frequently give optional supplementary readings from an optional casebook. Are you reading these supplements for every class? If you think that your supplements are very helpful then maybe you should continue to read one or two of them. But you should make an honest assessment and consider if the reading supplements are worth the additional time you are spending.
In my opinion, you are at no disadvantage if you choose not to read the optional supplements. Two of my professors frequently assigned these my 1L Fall semester and I never even got the supplemental casebooks, I still got As in both classes though.
Don’t Become a Quimbee Addict
Avoid spending too much time with your readings but I absolutely forbid you (if you are a 1L) from relying on Quimbee to cut down on your reading time. Actually, if you don’t care about your grades go ahead and use Quimbee, actually why read at all?
Seriously though Quimbee is a great tool for upperclassmen who are just counting down the time they have left in law school, but its extremely detrimental for 1Ls.
I hope that this article has given you a realistic idea of what the reading load is really like in law school and some useful tips on how you can manage it.