How To Read Law Cases?

How To Read Law Cases
Guidance on reading cases Reading a case One of the primary sources of law that you will be expected to read during your law degree is case law. Case law sources are reports of what judges decide following a dispute or issue having been brought to court.

  • Not every case will be reported in the law reports.
  • You will find that cases are available in hardcopy book form in your university library, in volumes such as the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports (the Law Reports consists of 4 series Appeal Cases, containing decisions of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and Queen’s Bench, Chancery and Family, containing cases from the High Court, Court of Appeal and references to the European Court of Justice).

These are also available electronically; the main electronic databases you are likely to have access to are Lexislibrary and Westlaw. Additionally, some cases may be accessed electronically from the British and Irish Legal information Institute () which is a free website containing, amongst other sources, British and Irish case law.

Law reports, whether online or in hard copy, contain the judgments of the judges delivered in the cases. The following is a brief explanation of what features you will find in a case reported in the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports and some general guidance as to how to read a case.

(Note the lay-out of cases in the reports identified does differ but generally the information is the same. Additionally in the Law Reports you will find the arguments presented to the court.) Features of a case When reading a case you should be noting various pieces of information, in particular: the case name; the citation; the court deciding the case; what was the issue in the case; what decision did the court reach in the case; and how did the court arrive at its decision.

  1. A case reported in the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports (Appeal Cases, Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery Division and Family Division) will commence with the name of the case e.g.
  2. Marks and Spencer plc v BNP Paribas Securities Services Trust Co (Jersey) Ltd and another 3 WLR 1843 which is used to identify the case as a source of law.

So if you want to use a statement of law from the case in a seminar or in an essay or in a moot it will be necessary to refer to the case name. Immediately after the case name the court deciding the case is indicated e.g. in the Marks &Spencer case, the Supreme Court,

This information is important when asking the question, ‘are statements of law binding on the other courts?’ (see Chapter 5 on the doctrine of judicial precedent). Next in the law report appears the neutral citation and the law report citation for the case, e.g. neutral citation UKSC 72 and citation 3 W.L.R.1843.

This tells you exactly where to find the case. The neutral citation relates to a transcript of a case available electronically. The transcript is organised in paragraphs (rather than pages) to allow precise reference to be made to judges’ words in that case.

  1. Under the citations the names of the judge or judges will be stated.
  2. The number of judges depends upon the court that is deciding the case.
  3. In the Marks & Spencer case, as it was the Supreme Court, there were 5 judges (but note cases in the Supreme Court may be heard by 7 or 9 judges depending upon the importance of a case).

The case report will then give an indication of the subject matter of a case in the catchwords, These words will help you decide if the case is one relevant to your research. The Marks & Spencer case concerns implied terms in commercial contracts. Very helpful guidance is given by the next feature the headnote,

The first important point to note is that the headnote is not a definitive statement of the law; it is a summary of the facts and decision in a case prepared by the person reporting the case, usually a barrister, whose name appears at the end of the case, but not the words of the judges. For statements of law you must read the judgments delivered by the judges in the case.

However, the headnote allows you to have an overview understanding of the facts and decision and will help you navigate the judgments of the judges in the case. Note that in the headnote there may be an indication as to how previous cases are used in deciding the reported case e.g.

  • Whether a previous case is followed or overruled, affirmed or reversed.
  • After the headnote the cases referred to by the judge or judges in the judgments are listed.
  • If a case has been appealed then the report will next explain the history of the case i.e.
  • Where it commenced in the courts and from which court the appeal is made.
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The names of the barristers and the parties they represent will appear in a case. The judgments will then appear in the case. The judgments are the most important part of a case because this is where the judges will state the law, seek to apply it to the facts of the case and then reach a decision.

  1. It is important to read the judgments in the cases to which you are referred by your tutors.
  2. When reading judgments it is important first to identify what it is that a court has been asked to decide.
  3. Bearing this in mind you can then read the judgment or judgments and seek to discover how the court answers this question.

Remember in reading a case you are looking for statements of law, either the ratio decidendi of the case or obiter dicta, In order for the law stated to be the ratio decidendi of the case it must answer the question asked that the court has been asked.

A statement of law which does not relate to the facts of the case or lead to the decision in the case must necessarily be an obiter dictum. The importance of the distinction is that the ratio decidendi of a previous case is binding on a later court (depending upon the rules of stare decisis) whereas an obiter dictum is not binding, being merely persuasive.

A case decided by, for example, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court will usually contain more than one judgment. It is essential that you read all of the judgments as judges may agree or may dissent. If dissenting judgments are given, it will be necessary to find agreement amongst a majority of the judges to establish the ratio decidendi of a case.

  1. However, be aware that judges may say that they are in agreement as to the decision to be reached in the case but then give different reasons for arriving at their decisions.
  2. Again a majority in favour of a reason for deciding a case must be found, otherwise the ratio will be uncertain.
  3. An example from the law of contract illustrates some of these difficulties; see Transfield Shipping Inc v Mercator Shipping Inc (The Achilleas) UKHL 28; 1 AC 61 where the opinions of five law lords showed two separate approaches to the issue before the House of Lords (two Law Lords for each approach) and the fifth Lord appeared to agree with both approaches.

In seeking to understand what was decided in a case you may be able to consult a subsequent case which seeks to interpret a previous case; in relation to The Achilleas see Sylvia Shipping Co Ltd v Progress Bulk Carriers Ltd (The Sylvia) EWHC 542 (Comm); 2 Lloyd’s Rep 81,

As you learn to read cases you will become familiar with the reasoning techniques employed by judges. One technique which may lead the new law student into error is the reversal of a rule by judges to test the impact of the rule. A cursory reading of a case may lead a student to think that this is the rule, when in fact the judge then undoes the reversal and pronounces that the first statement of the rule is correct.

See Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists 2 Q.B.795, where Lord Goddard uses this technique to decide whether or not a display of goods in a self-service store is an offer or an invitation to treat. The decision in the Pharmaceutical case was the subject of an appeal to the Court of Appeal 1 QB 401 where the decision was affirmed; the Court of Appeal adopted the reasoning of Lord Goddard.

Why are law cases so hard to read?

Speed Reading a Case – Reading your first case is like reading a foreign language you know only slightly. You might recognize the words, but you have to translate the concepts into English. You haven’t begun to think in the foreign language yet. Like a foreign language, case law contains terms not familiar to the first year law student.

  • Cases are written by lawyers for lawyers, consequently the writing contains technical legal jargon and is structured for the legal mind instead of the layperson.
  • To make it even more difficult, judges often use awkward syntax or complex words where simple ones would suffice.
  • It doesn’t help that law professors typically dish out a difficult-to-understand case in the first week of law school as a rite of passage to separate the serious students from the laggards.
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Typically, the average first year law student reads only three pages an hour in their first month of law school. By the end of the first semester, most students read ten pages an hour and keep at that pace until the end of their second year. However, with the right techniques, you can start at ten pages an hour and leap to twenty or thirty pages within your first semester. Return to Top Test Yourself!

How do you say a case in court?

What to say – When you speak in court it is important you know who you are talking to. When you speak in court:

a Registrar is called ‘Registrar’ a Magistrate or Judge is called ‘Your Honour’ an Assessor is called ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

When your case is called, you need to move to the bar table. You should stand up when speaking to the Registrar, Magistrate, Judge or Assessor, and when they are speaking to you. Sometimes they will give you permission to sit down, but otherwise you should stand at the bar table.

The first thing you need to say is your name and your role in the case. For example: “My name is Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss X and I am the plaintiff”. Your role, for example, plaintiff, applicant or defendant, may be written near your name on the court documents. The microphones at the bar table do not make your voice louder.

They are used to record each case. You will need to speak loudly enough for the officer on the bench to hear you. When the Judge, Magistrate, Registrar or Assessor is hearing your case, make sure that you listen to what is being said and don’t interrupt.

How are case names written?

Reading Case Citations A case citation typically has five parts: Party names, name if the reporter in which the case is found, volume number of the reporter, page in the reporter where the case starts, and the year the case was decided. The party names and the year may not be included.

  1. The parts in a citation look like this: Brown v.
  2. Board of Education, 347 U.S.483 (1954) ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ Parties Volume Reporter Page Year In the trial court, the first name listed is the plaintiff, the party bringing the suit.
  3. The name following the “v” is the defendant.
  4. If the case is appealed, the name of the petitioner (appellant) is usually listed first, and the name of the respondent (appellee) is listed second.

If the defendant in the trial court case brings an appeal, the defendant’s name may be listed first in the appellate case. However, some jurisdictions, such as Ohio, keep the parties’ names in the same order on appeal as in the trial court. In federal court, circuit court case captions list the parties in the same order as trial court case (plaintiff v.

  • Defendant, or state (or u.s.) v.
  • Defendant).
  • On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the name of the petitioner is listed first v.
  • The name of the respondent – so the defendant may be listed first in cases before the U.S.
  • Supreme Court.
  • Finding Cases by Citation in Print The following two tables list commonly used abbreviations for Federal and regional case reports.


Abbreviation Reporter Name Volumes
U.S. United States Reporter 1-current
S. Ct. or SCT Supreme Court Reporter 1-current
L. Ed. U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer’s Edition 1-100
L. Ed.2d U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer’s Edition, 2d 1-current
F.2d Federal Reporter, 2d 738-999*
F.3d Federal Reporter, 3d 1-current
F. Supp. Federal Supplement 590-999*
F. Supp.2d Federal Supplement, 2d 1-current
N.E.2d North Eastern Reporter, 2d 466-current*

print coverage begins in 1985


Abbreviation Reporter Name Volumes
Ohio St. Ohio State Reports 1-177
Ohio St.2d Ohio State Reports, 2d 1-70
Ohio St.3d Ohio State Reports, 3d ** 1-current
Ohio App. Ohio Appellate Reports 1-120
Ohio App.2d Ohio Appellate Reports, 2d 1-70
Ohio App.3d Ohio Appellate Reports, 3d ** 1-current
Ohio Misc. Ohio Miscellaneous Reports 1-70
Ohio Misc.2d Ohio Miscellaneous Reports, 2d ** 1-current
Ohio App. Unrep. Unreported Ohio Appellate Cases+ 1-8
Ohio Op. Ohio Opinions Annotated 1-60
Ohio Op.2d Ohio Opinions, 2d 1-75
Ohio Op.3d Ohio Opinions, 3d 1-24
Ohio B. Ohio State Bar Association Reports/Ohio Bar Reports 1-31
Ohio C.C. Ohio Circuit Court Reports 1-22
Ohio C.C. (n.s.) Ohio Circuit Court Reports, New Series 1-26
Ohio Ct. App. OCA Reports / Ohio Court of Appeals Reports 27-32
Ohio N.P. Ohio Nisi Prius Reports 1-8
Ohio N.P. (n.s.) Ohio Nisi Prius Reports, New Series 1-32
Ohio Law Abs. Ohio Law Abstract 2-95
Ohio Cir. Dec. Ohio Circuit Decisions 1-35
O.F.D. Ohio Federal Decisions 1-16
Ohio*** Ohio Reports 1-20
Ohio Dec. Ohio Decisions 1-31
Ohio Dec. Reprint Ohio Decisions Reprint 1-11
OAG Ohio Attorney General Opinions 1910-current


* In the Ohio Official Reports Series, three reporters are combined. Starting in 1982 (Vol.1) Ohio State Reports 3d, Ohio Appellate Reports 3d, and Ohio Miscellaneous Reports 2d are combined into one volume. Starting in June 1991 (Vol.61) they are each published separately.

Starting in 1994, Ohio Appellate Reports and Ohio Miscellaneous Reports were recombined, beginning with Vol.93 Ohio App. and Vol.64 Ohio Misc. Ohio State Reports continues to be a separate volume. *** Ohio Reports covers Ohio Supreme Court cases reported between 1821 and 1851. During the 1990’s, the Ohio Supreme Court developed its own system of citations for finding opinions on the Ohio Supreme Court website.

This form, referred to as the WebCite, also uses the abbreviation “Ohio” (ex.2009 Ohio 6054). If you are unsure as to whether your citation is to the Ohio Reports or a WebCite, check the date. + Additional Unreported Ohio Cases are available on microfiche.

Are law students depressed?

1. Over the course of law school, law student depression rates increase from under 10% to 40% – How To Read Law Cases According to the, rates of depression among law students increase progressively over the course of law school. Prior to entering law school, depression rates among law students are 8-9%. Those rates increase to 27% after one semester, 34% after two semesters, and 40% after three years.

This tendency toward depression appears to follow many graduates into their practice years. Attorneys are the most frequently depressed occupational,, and attorneys are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-attorneys. To solve this problem, the legal industry needs to start with the initial training grounds of legal education.

An initial step for law students is to recognize the signs of depression, which share much in common with the, These include both emotional symptoms, such as lack of joy and a sense of emptiness, and physical symptoms, such as insomnia and chronic fatigue.

Is law very stressful?

Thinking about becoming a lawyer? If so, great—but make sure you’re aware of what the job entails before you jump in with both feet and start working for a law firm, On the positive side, it’s a highly-respected field. The World Economic Forum reports it’s the world’s second-most respected profession after being a doctor.

This should come as no surprise. Lawyers are renowned for being high-performing, intellectually outstanding, and hardworking individuals—often with a hefty pay packet to match. But there’s another side of the coin. While lawyers might benefit from having an elite reputation and plenty of cash in the bank, it can also be incredibly stressful,

Many attorneys grapple with long hours, difficult clients, and ever-increasing demands daily. This blog takes a deep dive into how stressful being a lawyer really is. It explains the importance of where lawyers work, outlines which lawyers are happiest, and offers up some tips on how to find a legal job without sacrificing your wellbeing.

What do the numbers mean in a case?

Definition of a case number – A case number is a unique number assigned to a case by the court. The number makes it easier to track or retrieve the case. Knowing your case number also makes it easy to determine where and when the defendant filed the case.

If you’re unsure of your case number, you’ll need to consult the court clerk. Case numbers can be numbers, letters, or characters such as a dash (-). Some case numbers assigned by limited jurisdiction courts, e.g., district and municipal courts, may attach specific meaning to their case numbers. However, such case numbers have no meaning to outsiders or people not involved in the case.

If you’re assigned a case number, you must retain it for all subsequent admissions or matters relating to the case. A case number has the following information:

  • the year the lawsuit was filed, usually a two or four-digit format;
  • the type of case, e.g., a civil case;
  • a randomly assigned sequence number generated by the court;
  • the court the lawsuit was filed, represented by letters or numbers.

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