How to Read a Legal Opinion

A guide for new law students -- and others.


With law schools set to open their doors in a few weeks to a new 1L class, it's time for my annual posting of my 2007 essay, How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students. As the abstract explains:

This essay is designed to help new law students prepare for the first few weeks of class. It explains what judicial opinions are, how they are structured, and what law students should look for when reading them.

I'm told that some non-lawyers also have found the essay valuable as an introduction to reading cases. To download, just follow the link and then click on "Download this Paper."

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  1. Hey! I remember this, a little too late for law school. Still pretty good.

    I wanted to say thank you for many good years, and I’ll be reading you on lawfare and SCOTUSBlog. I’ve tried to stay with the VC since the move to Reason, but … it’s not working. As much as the WaPo was terrible, at least it had ignore. 🙂

    If/when we cross paths in RL, I’ll buy you a beer.

    PS- You should probably re-post A Theory of Law.

  2. Thanks. Second thumbs up – too bad that’s not available here. If you’re keeping track, this is one non lawyer who appreciates a look into how lawyers are expected to understand opinions and case law generally.

  3. This non-lawyer certainly found this essay very valuable, indeed. I admit that I had hoped to also find hints what to look for when arguments get a little thin but I guess that was probably hoping for too much relief from own thinking.
    As a non-native speaker I’d like to add that I found the essay beautifully written and straightforward, easy to understand.

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