Studying law is multifaceted: you read the casebook, brief the cases, attend class (listen, take notes, answer and ask questions), and consult with your professors when you need further clarification. If you've done all that and still do not understand the material, you may decide to turn to a study aid. Study aids are materials other than your casebook that help explain the law. Study aids are not a substitute for doing the hard work yourself because working with the material, even when it is difficult, is essential to understanding. Often, reading a study aid may be all that's needed to pull together all of the work you've done. It can be like the proverbial light bulb going off in your head after you've read someone else's explanation of the material. Study aids can be especially useful to double-check your understanding of the material as you prepare your course outlines.
One of the best study aids is a hornbook. Hornbooks are treatises in the subject matter. They explain the legal concepts and black letter law the way a non-fiction book or textbook would. Hornbooks are more like your undergraduate scholarly texts, except more scholarly and more detailed. However, they can be quite illuminating if you cannot pull the legal concepts out of the cases and the class discussions. Hornbooks are better than commercial outlines because the outlines are just that. They cover many concepts, but they cannot cover all the concepts in great detail. A hornbook can go into detail, explain the reasoning behind a series of cases, and take you through the legal synthesis process. The hornbook author tells you what the law is, not leads you to it Socratically.
Don't purchase hornbooks because the cost can be prohibitive. The law school has a number of hornbooks at the reference desk in the library.
Hornbooks can help when you create course outlines. When you're outlining, if you don't understand the concepts from the casebook and class notes, read the appropriate section in the hornbook, and see if you then understand enough to outline. The hornbooks discuss cases, so you probably will see an explanation of many of the cases in your case book. The hornbook might just discuss the cases in a way that you understand.
Almost every student uses a commercial outline at one time. Commercial outlines can be very helpful in laying out the black-letter law and giving you rules to memorize if that is what you are looking for. Some outlines are geared towards certain casebooks, so some students find those particularly helpful. The problem with commercial outlines is that some students use them in place of reading and working with the material on their own. These outlines are intended to supplement your work, not replace it.
Between Hornbooks and Commercial Outlines
There is another category of study aids that offer explanations of the law, but in less detail than a hornbook. They cover every traditional first year course and many upper level courses as well.
Nutshells (West Publishing Company) are somewhat like mini-hornbooks that explain the law in a condensed format. Their size--5" x 7"--may make them seem more palatable and less intimidating. Many of them give you just enough law so that you have a clear understanding of course rules, concepts and policy.
Similar books (although not in size) come under such series titles as "Examples and Explanations" (Aspen Law & Business), "Concepts and Insights" (Foundation Press), and the "Legal Text Series" (Matthew Bender). Again, they are all narrative explanations of various areas of the law. The "Examples and Explanations" series also contains fact pattern examples of different areas of the law, questions about those facts, and detailed explanations as answers to the questions.
CALI is short for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. These are interactive computer exercises and questions that test your knowledge of the material and help improve your test-taking skills. The CALI lessons provide interactive exercises where you enter responses to questions based on fact patterns and receive an instantaneous evaluation of your answer, prompts to guide you to, or, the "right" answer. You learn the law and how to apply the law to a body of facts--the key to doing well on exams. Some of the CALIs are mini-tutorials on a particular subject. Most CALIs tell you how long it should take to complete the exercises, and they range anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour. There is even an interactive CALI on how to take law school exams titled, "Writing Better Law School Exams: The Importance of Structure".
To access CALI lessons online, you must request an Authorization Code either from the Law Library Reference Desk or by emailing Lori Strickler. CALI DVDs are also available at the library reference desk for offline access to the lessons.
Miscellaneous (Canned Briefs, Flashcards. Tapes. etc.)
Every year it seems that there are more and different study aids. Don't use any of them to substitute for your work (canned case briefs. for example). But, since everyone learns differently, only you can determine what will help you clarify and review your understanding of the material.
Prepared by Sheilah Vance, former Assistant Dean of Academic Support; Copyright 2000.