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Using Case Briefs From the Web:
One difference between going to law school today and going to law school in the Dark Ages concerns the case briefs available for free on the web these days. Lots of students have posted their outlines and case briefs online, and they're all a Google search away. Maybe you don't feel like working your way through the mysteries of Pennoyer v. Neff? Don't worry — if you google Pennoyer v. Neff, Mike Shecket's case summary is the first thing to pop up. If in doubt, just download it to your laptop and bring it to class. If you're called on, you can improvise with Mike's help.

  I want to hear from current law students about how often students rely on such resources, both in and out of class. I have four specific questions:
1. How often to do you either read online casenotes before class, or download them and bring them to class in case you're called on?

2. Roughly what percentage of your classmates do so?

3. How many times in your law school experience has a student been called on for a case, and responded by reading from what you're pretty sure was an online casenote that the student downloaded from the web?

4. When (3) happened, do you think the professor realized what was happening? If they did, how did the professor respond?
  Thanks for the feedback. My special request is for practicing lawyers not to weigh in with comments. I'm sure lots of lawyers have opinions on whether students should rely on such resources, or have fond memories of what it was like to go to law school in the 1980s, but right now I want to find out about today's student practices.
HLSVet (mail):
I did it a couple of times as a 1L (last year). Only felt the need to do it in one class. Most of my professors were concerned with significant facts, logic, holding, etc., but my Civil Procedure professor enjoyed grilling people for a few minutes each day on extraneous facts or posture. So I read up on Pennoyer v. Neff and a few other cases online.

Probably 10% of my classmates did so.

I saw someone read from the internet once or twice.

Professor either didn't notice or didn't care.
9.29.2005 3:22pm
Ninomaniac:
I graduated in May, I hope I qualify. I printed a few outlines out, but never really used them. I don't know anyone else who did, either. When you have outline banks at your school, from either people you know or from people you know were on Law Review, who were taking the same course from the same professor, it makes a lot more sense to use that.

If you can't find one of those outlines, the next step is probably to buy a commercial outline, not go on the web. I only went on the web for federal criminal law because i couldn't find anything else. the outlines I found were horrible, so i threw them away
9.29.2005 3:22pm
Student Who Values Anonymity (mail):

1. How often to do you either read online casenotes before class, or download them and bring them to class in case you're called on?

When I use them, I download them in class. We have in-class wireless internet access. I wouldn't bother with one if I've read before class, which I usually do. I prefer drawing my own conclusions about a case.

2. Roughly what percentage of your classmates do so?

I'd guess 10% use them constantly and another 10% use them occasionally.

3. How many times in your law school experience has a student been called on for a case, and responded by reading from what you're pretty sure was an online casenote that the student downloaded from the web?

Maybe 5 times. It's pretty rare that students are particularly obvious about it.

4. When (3) happened, do you think the professor realized what was happening? If they did, how did the professor respond?

The professor probably detected a certain lack of preparation, but probably didn't know that the student got the case brief off the internet. The only times professors reference the internet in class are when they tell us not to play games in class or shop online. (We, of course, still play games and shop.)
9.29.2005 3:23pm
Bill H (mail):
1. I'm a 3rd year evening student and seldom use online casenotes. The only time I'll use them is if I'm unprepared and fairly certain of being called on.

2. I've noticed about 1/4 to 1/3 of classmates have casenotes printed out but this may or may not be an indication of whether they read the case as assigned.

3. Never noticed an obvious quote from a casenote.

4. N/A

I generally don't want to rely on another student's take on a case (until outline time), so I'll stick with either Lexus' or Westlaw's product (not that these are genuinely more accurate or helpful than, for instance, Mike Sheckel's summary.
9.29.2005 3:27pm
MDJD2B (mail):
About half the cases in the casebooks have case briefs that can readily be obtained. Their quality varies widely. I use them to supplement the case, but I almost always read the case and brief it myself. Having the brief in front of me without having read the case will net allow me to answer the professors' questions, unless the professor confines questions to facts of the case and little more. These briefs contain errors from time to time. They can supplement the reading, and save time by pointing the student toward the issues, but are not a substitute for reading the cases.

This is not to say that if my casebook contains a poorly written 10 page opinion I will not bag the case, rely on a canned brief, and hope I don't get called on. TI may also rely on the canned brief if I am in a terrible time quandary.

Many, if not most of my classmates access these briefs. I have no idea how they use them.
9.29.2005 3:28pm
Adam Steiner:
1) I found a website which had briefs on every case in my contracts book, but never ended up using them.

2) Very few. It is more common for people to get briefs from older friends, and to use those. But even there, I doubt it passes 10% of the class.

3) Not being sure what the online briefs say, I'm not sure I can comment. But there have been times where students are called on, and read from their briefs, in language which did not sound like their own (too smooth, too professional)

4) Some would ask additional questions, trying to see if the student actually knew the case. Others would just move on if the student had answered the question correctly.
9.29.2005 3:33pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
I once looked at an online note for Pierson v. Post because I had forgotten my book, but I found it incomprehensible and just downloaded the case.

At least here at Yale, students seem to rely on IMing or emailing one another for answers in class, or consulting class outlines made by the previous year's students, much more than using briefs online.
9.29.2005 3:34pm
jimmy2 (mail):
Current 2L...
1. Last year I used the online materials whenever I needed a night away from pouring through my casebooks. It was a nice way to step back from the incessant studying, but I usually only used them for the facts of the case. I probably used them four times a semester.
2. If I had to guess, I would say 20% of my classmates used them at one point or another last year.
3. I only remember one student who read from his computer in Property class. It was apparent that he was not prepared, and his words sounded very "thought out." (which is not indicative of 1Ls!)
4. It was painfully obvious that he wasn't prepared, and the professor made him suffer the consequences. In the end, it didn't appear to be worth the embarassment for him.

Should I feel bad about occasionally using these materials? As a Professor, what goes through your mind when a student does #3?
9.29.2005 3:34pm
SternOne (mail):
There this excellent program that myself and a bunch of other 1Ls at my school have gotten from www.storelaw.com - Outliner and CaseBriefs.

Generally, most of us don't rely upon these briefs exclusively, but they definately help when trying to sort out the meat from the fat (or is it the substance from the dicta now that I'm in law school?) when reading through the cases.
9.29.2005 3:34pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
To be a little more concrete in response to 3: Students in Tax would quite regularly read answers off of a premade outline. Professor Alstott didn't seem to notice, or if she did, didn't seem to care.
9.29.2005 3:35pm
wondering (mail):
Do professors care about anything students do at Yale?
9.29.2005 3:46pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
Some most certainly do!
9.29.2005 3:50pm
Dave Egger (mail):
I do it from time to time if I'm just having a rough week - falling behind, etc. I also have a part time job along with being full-time day, so it happens.

I never feel confident enough to raise my hand if I haven't read the case though.

I don't see a lot of other people doing it, and if they have been I haven't noticed.

I tend to grab them from Lexis most of the time, but we're reading Pennoyer v Neff next week, so that link will be most helpful :-)
9.29.2005 3:58pm
Robert Lyman (mail):
1) Never

2) None that I know of, but I haven't grilled them on it.

3) I've never seen this and been aware of it. I think I'd have trouble telling the difference between reading one's own brief and reading one online, since a sensible student will paraphrase rather than reading. Of course, it may be that I'm just not paying close enough attention.

4) NA
9.29.2005 4:04pm
NYU 1L:
Never happened as far as I know to all 4, though I know NYU students use internet outlines frequently for test preparation. Then again, none of my classes have professors who are even remotely sadistic (CivPro doesn't cold call, and Torts and Contracts will cold call but don't stay on target for more than a minute.)
9.29.2005 4:12pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I... never thought of that! heh
9.29.2005 4:13pm
William Spieler (mail) (www):
I use commercial case briefs, myself.
9.29.2005 4:16pm
Northwestern 1L (mail) (www):
Around here, I don't see any use of online canned briefs, since it's hard to verify their quality. Of course, many students occasionally use canned briefs like High Court or Casenotes, but it's early enough in the semester that students aren't falling too far behind.
9.29.2005 4:27pm
UBalt 2L:
The canned briefs on Westlaw and Lexis tend to be a bare-bones introduction to the issues. I will occasionally use them for guidance, if I am totally lost and/or totally out of time, but I know they won't help me if I'm called upon for anything but the most rudimentary comment. Much better to read through the Westlaw headnotes and then try again to brief the case. Canned briefs are often worse. I tried to use them in 1L contracts, and quickly abandoned the effort.

As for other students' material becoming available on the web, that just sounds like a modern update to the time-honored traditions of sharing class notes and outlines... if you find good ones, it can rescue you when you're called on and guide you towards success on an exam, possibly saving precious hours. If you get mediocre ones, it's your hide at risk and you'd better hope that your own preparations will make up for the incompleteness or misinformation. (Oh, and if you get good ones, and think that excuses you from studying hard for your exams, it won't take more than one bona-fide law school issue spotter to disabuse you of that fantasy).
9.29.2005 4:31pm
Abdul:
I've mis-read the syllabus a few times and been faced with trying to follow a class discussion on a case that I hadn't read. In those situations, I'd read the Lexis case summary (via wireless), and I could follow along, and even struggle through the socratic swamp when called upon.

I've noticed quite a few students (between 10-20%) actually put the lexis summary in their class notes. I don't think that's helpful as the class and professor may focus entirely on just one aspect of the case and not the general summary.

Lexis and westlaw also market their summaries to lazy law students, offering the "brief-it!" option which leads you to just the summary of the case.
9.29.2005 4:37pm
SuperChimp:
I think you're asking the wrong question. From my experiences (currently a 2L), only 10% (or less) of students use online casenotes for the Socratic process. However, I'd be willing to guess that at least 50% (and the number grows as the semester winds on) use a past student's class outline to assist them.
9.29.2005 4:42pm
Dutch (mail):
1. How often to do you either read online casenotes before class, or download them and bring them to class in case you're called on? Never.

2. Roughly what percentage of your classmates do so? No one that I've ever seen.

3. How many times in your law school experience has a student been called on for a case, and responded by reading from what you're pretty sure was an online casenote that the student downloaded from the web? I've heard what sounded like a Lexis summary, but not a casenote prepared by a past student. I HAVE heard tons of answers straight off of last year's star student's outline.

4. When (3) happened, do you think the professor realized what was happening? If they did, how did the professor respond? Yeah, a couple of times I think the professor had heard it stated that way before, but they just moved on.

What has been more common in my personal experience is students using online resources (but not online casenotes) in class to rebut some ridiculous factual claim a professor made.
9.29.2005 5:04pm
Bob (mail):
1. Never
2. not sure...but it seems low
3. I've never noticed
4. N/A

not sure my answers are representative, I'm such a luddite that i dont even use my laptop in class
9.29.2005 5:10pm
bitterman (www):
I haven't seen anyone using pre-digested case briefs in class. A few use the storelaw stuff, but people tend to either use pre-made briefs as extra help in making their own, or they end up just flailing about uselessly when questioned by the prof.

I do all my own briefs on paper though, I don't like using the laptop.
9.29.2005 5:26pm
Trevor (mail) (www):
1) Never. The worst the professor can do is try to make me look foolish, and I made my peace with foolishness long ago.

2) None that I know of.

3) Never that I've notcied.

4) Never that I've noticed.

Now I'm only a 1L and I've only been here a handful of weeks. I know some people read prepared briefs before class. But most of my professors don't allow laptops in class, so students would have to print briefs out and bring them in.
9.29.2005 5:42pm
Nobody (mail):
When I was at Georgetown Law (I graduated in 2000), I took a course with a visiting professor. I managed to find an outline for her class in an online outline bank maintained by the Student Bar Association of the school from which she was visiting. I pulled an A on the exam.
9.29.2005 6:11pm
GMUSL 1L (mail):
Not too many people use internet briefs. I've maybe used it a handful times at this point (halfway through my 3rd semester), but only for some of the hard PJ/Erie questions in CivPro and Palsgraf in Torts.

I've found that I do a lot better relying on my own work.
9.29.2005 6:46pm
nyejm (mail) (www):
At my school (Univ. of Cincinnati) the Student Bar Association gathers course outlines from the 2Ls and distributes them on CDs for the 1Ls. Ostensibly this is to help the 1Ls learn how to outline properly, and I think for the most part they were used that way in the first semester. But by second semester it was not at all uncommon for students to be reading from outlines during class (one student in particular had outstanding outlines -- thank you, Corey Duersch). You might argue that these do not constitute "online" briefs because they are of known and reliable origin. Or you might not.

To answer the questions, though, I did that maybe twice a week in the second semester of 1L year, so about 15% of the time. I suspect that 80% of my classmates did so as well. As for reading directly from the outline during class, I think it happened pretty regularly in one class and very rarely in others, so I will guess probably 20 times over 15 weeks. The prof, I am certain, knew that we had last year's outlines, but he never seemed to care.
9.29.2005 6:49pm
Stanford 1L:
1. Never.

2. It's a rough guess, but I'd say maybe 5%.

3. Just once so far.

4. Everyone in the room realized what was happening. I think everyone was either shocked or amused that a student would be that tacky. The professor kind of chuckled and then asked for the student's own words.
9.29.2005 6:57pm
Syr 2L:
Only the one or two times that I completely failed to read the case before class have I read online casenotes, and those times are always during class using wireless internet. I have seen about 10-20% of my classmates use them; frequently they will have one browser window open to addictinggames.com or the like, and the other open to the cases of the day, in the event their number comes up.

I've probably watched a student read directly from online casenotes two or three times and suspected it a few more than that. The professor either didn't care, or knew the student was quoting another source, but didn't address it. Knowing the students in question, it's not as though their own words would have done more to contribute to class understanding.

And to echo the point of a poster above, far more common is the use of the Internet to challenge a professor on a ridiculous 'fact' they throw out in the middle of a lecture. I've done it several times myself. Of course infinitely more common than even that is the use of the Internet to check email, send instant messages, and read news, especially in those classes where the professor makes little to no effort to engage the students.
9.29.2005 7:07pm
A reader:
I find the uniformity of these responses suspicious. Are all law students so hyper-responsible they insist on not reading others' casenotes, even to get a second viewpoint? Or is it just the crowd that reads Volokh.com, admittedly probably not a good random sample of law students? Or doth the ladies protest too much?
9.29.2005 7:10pm
CLS 1L:
I haven't resorted to an online brief yet. For me (and others), we might be more tempted if our professors insisted on embarrassing us in class on a bad day when the key reading didn't get done. For example, 0ur contracts professor described our small section of 25 as "home room" on the first day and I think that attitude helped us to chill out and not feel like there'd be hell to pay if we couldn't answer questions on a given day.
9.29.2005 7:18pm
John Jenkins (mail):
1. Once in con law my first semester; I didn't get called on and since it was 11th Amendment day in con law, it never came up again.

2. I'm not sure, but I'd guess at least 50% if you include old outlines and notes from other students who have had the class before.

3. More than I care to remember. In particular for one class there was a transcript of the class down to the corny jokes the professor made that people would use to answer the questions. I knew about it but didn't have one because this professor rarely called on anyone.

4. The professors either didn't know or didn't care the times I've seen it.
9.29.2005 7:22pm
3L LSU (mail):
3L LSU

1. Never
2. 0-5%
3. Never, but students have read from an outline
4. No
9.29.2005 7:31pm
TFKW:
1. I've used Lexis to download cases before class when I forgot to bring the materials, and I usually just read their summaries while I did that. Beyond that, maybe once or twice to see if it was helpful. I found it more annoying than time-saving.

2. A lot? I've seen students carrying around printed commercial outlines / brief books, although obviously those can't be hidden if you are called on. I think IMing each other is a bigger deal -- if everyone is in a big chatroom and giving hints for whoever is getting called on, that can be better than a brief. Or worse, if they give bad advice...

3. A few times? From IM is more common.

4. Never for downloaded materials, almost never for IMs. Sometimes a student would be totally honest and say "someone is IMing me and telling me to say ...".
9.29.2005 7:35pm
1L GMU:
I am a night student who works full time. I usually do all of my reading over the weekends and brief all of the cases on my own. I tend to read the online briefs the week of the class and makes notes/additions to my own when I think they make good points. I don't know about anyone else using them. I haven't seen anyone do it and I haven't noticed. If a professor has, they certainly haven't said anything about it.
9.29.2005 7:59pm
anon 3L (mail) (www):
One group of case briefs that I have seen used by a few of my colleagues is "LegalLines." They are relatively thorough and provide a good overview of the more important cases.

I knew Mike Shecket, whose brief of Pennoyer v. Neff (a case that is death personified) began this post. He was in my class at Ohio State (Moritz Law). He decided after his 2L year to drop law school and become a biology teacher. He still has a blog at blog.mikeshecket.com, mainly personal rather than substantive stuff. But I enjoyed this recent post of his:

Famous law school dropouts!

- President Lyndon Johnson
- President William McKinley
- President Franklin Roosevelt
- President Theodore Roosevelt
- President Harry Truman
- President Woodrow Wilson
- Almost-President Al Gore
- Martin Luther
- Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
- Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games)
- Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
- Ray Manzarek of The Doors
- Limited founder and richest man in Columbus Les Wexner (apparently an Ohio State law school dropout)
- Carly Fiorina (Former HP Chairman and CEO)
- Donald Rumsfeld
- Karl Marx
- Novelist/murderer Michael Peterson
9.29.2005 8:18pm
divineangst (mail) (www):
I think students at my school are more likely to pull the actual case up on Lexis or Westlaw than pull up an online brief.

I admit to pulling up a brief just once—I misread the reading assignment and needed to look up International Shoe. I found the brief helpful only to the extent that when I then pulled up the actual case, I could focus my reading (I only had a few minutes between classes to look over the material).

I haven't seen any evidence of students using canned briefs of any kind in class, but if they were it might not be obvious. Very few of my classes are explicitly Socratic (at least two have assigned students on call) and in the one that is, the professor doesn't usually ask for a recitation of the facts/issue/holding.I think students at my school are more likely to pull the actual case up on Lexis or Westlaw than pull up an online brief.

I admit to pulling up a brief just once—I misread the reading assignment and needed to look up International Shoe. I found the brief helpful only to the extent that when I then pulled up the actual case, I could focus my reading (I only had a few minutes between classes to look over the material).

I haven't seen any evidence of students using canned briefs of any kind in class, but if they were it might not be obvious. Very few of my classes are explicitly Socratic (at least two have assigned students on call) and in the one that is, the professor doesn't usually ask for a recitation of the facts/issue/holding.
I think students at my school are more likely to pull the actual case up on Lexis or Westlaw than pull up an online brief.

I admit to pulling up a brief just once—I misread the reading assignment and needed to look up International Shoe. I found the brief helpful only to the extent that when I then pulled up the actual case, I could focus my reading (I only had a few minutes between classes to look over the material).

I haven't seen any evidence of students using canned briefs of any kind in class, but if they were it might not be obvious. Very few of my classes are explicitly Socratic (at least two have assigned students on call) and in the one that is, the professor doesn't usually ask for a recitation of the facts/issue/holding.
9.29.2005 8:37pm
divineangst (mail) (www):
Whoops! Sorry for the weird, mangled commentl.
9.29.2005 8:38pm
W&M 3L:
in Crimlaw 2 years ago I sat behind a girl who seemed never to have done the reading. During class she would open Lexis over the wireless connection and cut and paste their casenotes into her class notes, so it looked as though she had briefed the case. Not sure why she cared what it looked like; maybe this was just for her own use when studying. Anyway, she'd be doing all this highlighting and clicking even as we started in discussing whatever case it was. The few times she got called on, it was readily apparent that she couldn't quickly recite the essential facts and get to the legal issues - she would get hung up reading aloud the introductory sentence or two of the Lexis casenote summary, and put stress on the wrong details in her reading. I think the prof knew she was at best poorly prepared. Usually he just moved on to someone else.
9.29.2005 9:19pm
Justin 2L (www):
1. I used some for Civ Pro as "backup" just to make sure I was understanding info correctly. I'll still "Google" a case if I'm worried about understanding correctly (maybe a couple of times a month)

2. 5-10% often -- 20% once in awhile

3. Maybe 5 times all early in the 1L year.

4. Don't think they knew or care -- more likely they didn't know.
9.29.2005 10:41pm
Senor Chumbawumba:
As a 1L at a top-15 law school, I've never used the Intarweb for case briefs. More importantly, our professors usually ask us really particular questions that one couldn't answer unless one had read the case.

My CivPro called on me the first day, and though I'd read Gordon v. Steele thoroughly and understood the facts and reasoning and interaction therebetween, the prof wanted to know exactly where to find the fact that domicile was determined on the day the action was commenced. As it turned out, it was in a citation that my adrenaline-addled brain could not recall.
9.29.2005 11:34pm
Mr. X (www):
1. I looked up Mullane in class, but after I had already read the case myself. Mike's brief was definitely funnier than my own.

2. Maybe 10%, but I don't have a good sense of it.

3. Never noticed this.

4. N/A.

As others have mentioned, if I'm going to look up web resources to replace or supplement what I've prepared myself, I'm going to do it in class, rather than beforehand.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...p/t 2L...
9.29.2005 11:47pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I agree about being suspicious. It is hard to believe that, for example, Legal Lines could stay in business if a lot of law students didn't use their case briefs. So, why all of the honesty all of a sudden? Come on. By 2nd semester 1L, a lot of students are starting to cut corners, and by 3L, a very large percentage are.
9.29.2005 11:56pm
May graduate:
1. Pretty much never -- when I used casenotes, I used the headnotes written by West. (This I did frequently).

2. I'd say the number of people who downloaded casenotes by Googling was pretty low, but it was very common to trade previous class' notes via email.

3-4. I witnessed another student read from downloaded notes (from a previous year, not from a random site), and the Professor called him on it and that was pretty much the last time it ever happened. The prof had changed the question slightly and was able to recognize the previous year's distinctive answer.
9.29.2005 11:58pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
They are still teaching Pennoyer v. Neff? When do they tell the students that it was expressly overruled?
9.30.2005 12:42am
rws79:
Used Lexis case notes once or twice, as did a few of my classmates - not too impressed. For the most part, however, if anything like this is used, it is the High Courts Summaries books - those are often read in the last few minutes before class in lieu of the actual case. The only exception was an outline that is available on line for a certain 1L prof - pretty much everyone in the class had this (as did pretty much any student who has ever taken this class) and many would answer questions reading directly from this outline. The prof seemed to not be aware of this, but I have a hard time believing he doesn't know (there is even talk that he himself is the one who wrote the outline and put it on the web).
9.30.2005 1:28am
Greg (www):
Online case briefs? Not often. They're of dubious quality, and spotty coverage. Okay, Pennoyer v. Neff, yeah, you get a brief right away, but not so much with McCray v. Illinois.

What do I use? High Court Case Summaries, if they've got a copy for the book I'm using. The pages are perforated! You can tear them out and put them in your 3-ring binder.

"What else?" you ask. Well, for any prof that's taught more than once, there are outlines from much more industrious students than me. They wrote down every question the prof asked and the answers that didn't get slapped down, Socrates-style.

I've also been known to hold an Examples and Explanations or other hornbook on my lap while questioning was going on. [BTW, anyone else ever have a prof that taught directly from Understanding X?]

How often? Rarely. Okay, occasionally. I'm a 3L. I'm a 3L with a job already. And a clinic and a cert to finish. And sometimes I don't get the reading done the night before and I don't want to drop a note. (Because I know that as little as I'm getting out of the Socratic method at this point, I'll get even less out of listening to others being Socratized.)

Tomorrow, I'm dropping a note.

ps. A couple of times in 1L, I forgot my torts book and of course, when you forget your book you will be called on. [Is that your plan, professor?] I had pulled up the Lexis version and the prof asked, "Where do you find support for Thus-and-So?" So, I, having read the case before, and reskimmed the case in the previous minute, starting rattling off the part of the case that fit. Of course, it's the part the book elided. I was right about what the case said. No fair trying to hide the ball in the ellipses!
9.30.2005 3:32am
Cathy (mail) (www):
As a 1L I think I grabbed case briefs online just a few times, mostly from Wexis because of the trusting the source issue. I didn't feel this was somehow "cheating," as I think the original post implied. If the case was opaque to me after reading it, the responsible thing to do seemed to go look for some insight. And if other students parroted case notes in class rather than their own insights, what did I care? As long as I got what I needed to know from the discussion.

(I do think, however, that few classmates did read off Internet briefs. I think we had the assumption that what the profs wanted was not the basic stuff that would be in them, but something deeper that we'd have to come up with on our own.)

Since I've been a 2/3L, however, on many occasions I've consulted mine and my friend's notes and outlines during subsequent classes' discussions. Again, it seems like the reasonable and indeed responsible thing to do.
9.30.2005 7:37am
WDC (mail):
A point:
Believe it or not, I think that many law students, at least in more traditional law school settings, often feel that reading/skimming the actual case (5-20 pages)
a) doesn't take all that long, with some practice;
b) takes only somewhat, not significantly less time than looking around for the case online/in a supplement and then reading the summary;
c) is more protection against being caught underprepared on the 2nd or 3rd socratic question by the professor if that professor "stays on" the student in class;
d) is part of the overall eduaction (some)one is paying for in law school.
9.30.2005 10:11am
Anon Cornell:
I have used online case briefs many times in the past, especially 1L year, but I generally read them after reading the assigned cases. The class I most often used them in was Contracts only because my Contracts prof was very Socratic. A great website for 1L case briefs is http://www.4lawschool.com. Mind you, online case briefs are great to get the black letter law, the ruling of the case, facts, procedural posture, etc, but reading the actual case first is essential in order to understand the brief. If your professor requires you to prepare a case brief (which my Contracts prof did, and if he thought you were unprepared in class that day, would even ask to see your brief), online banks like the link above are a great resource, but should not take the place of reading the actual case. Ironically, I was only called on in Contracts the days I didn't use the online case briefs (or even made my own brief), but I somehow managed to get through just fine. Funny how that is...
9.30.2005 2:30pm
ThomMH (mail):
My own pratice: first, I try to read a summary of the case to figure out the basic facts and the basic black letter rule; then I skim the actual case (when I skim, I look for the reasoning behind the holding of the case, which is usually somewhat lacking in commercial outlines).

The practices of other students varies, and seems to depend a lot on the professor (the more socratic, the more likely we'll read) and the subject matter (the more interesting, the more likely we'll read). In my 1L property class, probably over half the class used the Casenotes summaries for Singer's Property textbook. VERY OFTEN, when asked to recite the facts, students read them verbatim from the Casenotes brief. The professor either didn't catch on, or didn't care, because he never said anything about it.
9.30.2005 4:22pm
Malloy (mail):
1L

1. --Never. I like to do my own work. Not so much out of any pride or work ethic, but I just think that the only way to improve the skills involved is practice. Reading what someone else has put together, even if it's excellent, just doesn't get the job done. Second, by doing it myself, I can tailor the notes to that particular professor, the ideas he emphasizes, pet issues of his, etc, and disregard things that I don't think he feels are important, so I don't have to scan over them when I'm fussing with my notes.

2. --The 10 percent figure sounds pretty accurate, maybe up to 15 percent. Of those, I'd say a third rely heavily on the downloaded notes, the rest use them either to supplement their own notes, or only in a pinch (ie, they went drinking the night before and didn't read the case)

3. How many times in your law school experience has a student been called on for a case, and responded by reading from what you're pretty sure was an online casenote that the student downloaded from the web?
--I'm still in my first month, but I've only heard it happen once or twice. (I knew the students personally, and they seemed unusually articulate about a difficult case)

4. --I don't think they caught on.
9.30.2005 5:01pm
NYU 1L (mail):
Hey,

I noticed a couple "reader" posts doubting whether it really is true that most law school students don't use web case briefs. One such doubting "reader" suggested that the law students who read and respond to this website might be a self-selecting group.

This is my first time to go to this site (my brother, a lawyer, asked me what I thought of this topic), so I am not a member of the supposed self-selecting group of Volokh readers (never heard of this site before, to be honest). Yet I agree completely with what pretty much every other law students has said. At least at NYU, we don't use anonymous case briefs from the web. Some people get the case summaries from LexisNexis, which seems useful (although I haven't done that myself), but why would we trust some random case brief on the internet? I think that most people actually (gasp!) read the cases or -- if caught unprepared -- attempt to fake it.

I'd say that this is simply the wrong topic. Law school problem issues related to the web might include the rampant use of email and IM during certain classes (those classes where the teacher rambles on without calling on students), but there is not really any problem of students reading from downloaded case briefs (at least at NYU). Sorry.
9.30.2005 10:25pm
Harvard 1L:
I use internet briefs all the time. I google every case before I read it. The coverage isn't all that good, as others have mentioned. I wouldn't say I've gotten helpful briefs for even half of the cases I've wanted them for. Lexis briefs are not good at all. I don't even bother with them. I love Mike Shecket. There is also a website, Oyez, that has great briefs of Supreme Court cases.

I've definitely used them to replace reading cases. I am so busy, and reading cases is probably the least useful thing I spend time on. Plus I have professors that think it's cute to assign like 100 pages of reading in a night. If I could figure out a way to completely eliminate reading the actual cases, I would do it. Unfortunately, the online briefs just aren't good/prevalent enough yet.

As far as how many other people do this, I don't know. Surprisingly few. But more and more of the people I know are doing it once they see how helpful it is.
10.3.2005 9:25am
Mike Shecket (mail) (www):
If people aren't reading the cases and they're simply reading off my briefs (or any other materials) in class, they're only cheating themselves. Then again, that's assuming that learning the law is the point of law school (as opposed to pure hazing or an economic barrier to entry into the legal profession).

For my part, I was hoping that other people would do the same thing I did (imitation, flattery and all that) and that I would be getting e-mails by now saying "Hey Mike! Your briefs suck, dude! From now on I'm going to somenew1l.betterthanmikeshecket.com!"

Also, not to put anyone down or butter anybody up, but I definitely get a disproportionate number of hits and e-mails from lower-tier law schools, who may in turn be underrepresented as Volokh readers.
10.4.2005 2:15pm
Sebastianguy99 (mail):
"Also, not to put anyone down or butter anybody up, but I definitely get a disproportionate number of hits and e-mails from lower-tier law schools, who may in turn be underrepresented as Volokh readers."



As a recent graduate of a law school, not in the 1st tier, I can tell you that my fellow students did not hesitate to use any supplement they felt could help them in their course of study. I can also tell you that some students were successful using canned briefs, and some were not.

I think it's ok to mention that so-called "lower-tier" law students might be underrepresented as commentors of this blog or a particular website, but it is pure speculation to say that also extends to readership.

Lastly, I would note that there are professors who have used canned briefs in class as well!
10.4.2005 3:02pm
FoolBoyChamp:
1. about 50% of the time if I am familiar with the concepts being taught.

2. 30% or so.

3. really can't say...because most students do not just read from casenotes, rather they paraphrase and have at least skimmed over the case in question.

4. a good friend/classmate of mine did, and i am sure that it was pretty oblious, but the professor made a point of having students READ from their written brief, so even the most prepared student sounded silly reading from the paper.
10.5.2005 4:56pm