Reading Strategies for New Paralegals Navigating Case Law

Necole Floyd-Turner, JD, Kaplan University Paralegal Faculty

©2014 Clipart.com

©2014 Clipart.com

Being a student in any paralegal program can be hard work that includes researching and reading case law. But being a paralegal can be even more challenging, and navigating your first paralegal job, well, can be downright terrifying. Assignments and labs are supposed to prepare you for the workforce, but how do you make the transition from paper to practical?

This post begins a series on the tips and tools that can help a new paralegal entering the workforce. The tips will mainly focus on reading case law, conducting legal research, and writing the case brief.

Imagine you are a newly graduated paralegal, and it is your first day at a law firm. Your supervising attorney walks in and drops a file that contains case law for a big trial that he is working on. He asks you to read the case and write a case brief on relevant points of law by the end of the work day. You politely smile and state you “got it.” Secretly you are terrified and really do not know where to begin. Here is where you start:

Pre-read the Case

Pre-reading the case involves reading the case name, the first paragraph of the case, the procedural history, the first sentence of each paragraph, and the very last paragraph of the case. Pre-reading the case gives you an overview of the elements of the case and the parties involved. Sometimes you may even be able to get an initial grasp of the legal concepts in a case.

Skim, Skip, or Read

Once the pre-reading is done, you will be able to determine what paragraphs in the case to skim, skip, or read completely. Skimming involves scanning every sentence in the case. You are not reading every word, but rather, phrases. This is beneficial in that this gives a good perspective of the elements and parties involved in the case.

Take Notes

Highlighting as we read is second nature. However, taking notes after completing the first two steps in the process is more productive. Outlining facts about the case makes it easier down the road when you are preparing to write the case brief. The facts of the case are called to memory a bit faster when you write them down.

Using the above tips can help any new paralegal become comfortable with reading case law but more importantly navigating that first job.

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