Thursday, August 18, 2005

Casebooks are hard to read

Have you ever considered that the reading you did in law school contributed to the way you write today? Here's a view from one writer who thinks casebooks are badly designed for reading:
    In contrast [to the user aids in a West-published opinion], casebooks assigned to beginning law students are stripped of even these convenient guides. Instead, students are presented with pages of choppy, edited opinions without headnotes, subtitles, white space, colored print, or other textual highlights. They are expected somehow to glean from the few headings provided (usually a chapter title and a single subheading) the substantive context of the case and why the author has chosen to include it in this particular section. Then they are expected to wade through the unstructured text and pick out the uncontroverted facts, the disputed legal and factual issues, the procedural history, the rules, holdings, rationales, and analysis of the opinion. They must then extract the rule and understand its underlying policies. They are sometimes "assisted" in this task by the placement of several highly abstruse questions (usually assuming a great deal of contextual knowledge that the students lack) at the end of the excerpted case. They must come to class prepared not only to discuss the case, but to transfer application of its rules to new hypothetical fact situations that the teacher presents to them on the spot. For anyone this would be a daunting cognitive load; for the beginning law student it is stultifying. Is it any wonder that law students rely so heavily on commercial outlines and canned briefs to provide the structure that is so sadly lacking in the texts they read?
Janeen Kerper, Let's Space Out: Rethinking the Design of Law School Texts, 51 J. Leg. Educ. 267, 268-69 (2001).

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