Business is all about managing the various business processes. A good manager identifies a process and then proceeds to identify the variables affecting the process and finally managing and optimizing those variables. If a business's critical processes are optimized, that business will have a much greater likelihood of success than a business whose processes are out of control.
W. Edwards Deming is commonly credited as the father of statistical process control in the U.S. In the 1970's and 80's U.S. car companies were faced with the Asian competitive threat and turned to Deming, who following the decimation of Japan in World War II, was charged by General Douglas MacArthur to assist in the rebuilding of that country. Before long, the Japanese had not only rebuilt their country, but had begun to overtake the U.S. as the dominant manufacturing power, especially in the automotive market.
I grew up in my business career during those times and as with most executives, became adept at process control. When I was faced with the apparently chaotic processes involved in legal education, I struggled to make sense of it both during and after I graduated. The net result of my struggle is my book entitled "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" (Kaplan Publishing, 2009). The book not only describes my struggle, but more importantly describes the key "lessons learned" as I traversed the labyrinth, especially the lessons about dealing with the Socratic method, learning the legal reasoning methodology and digesting vast amounts of information in such a way as to perform optimally when it counts- at exam time.
Anyway, on with the secret. When you start law school, you will be assigned to read numerous lengthy and often arcane cases. You will not be given any quidance, questions, tips or anything else that will help you understand the point of even reading the cases. Instead, you will read cases, go to class and hope you don't embarrass yourself in a Socratic grilling.
Different students respond differently to this apparent paradox. Some students read and read and reread the cases, memorizing the most minute details. Other students mark, highlight and underline the cases, in the hopes of being able to recall the reading. Still other students do "briefs" using IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion). Regardless, most students go to class, are called on and in up being embarrassed anyway (dealing with the Socratic method is beyond the scope of this blog post- I'm afraid you'll have to read my book, or wait for a later post for that).
After I graduated and went to work for a law firm, I was often assigned legal research and memoranda writing in support of motions, such as a motion for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss. A brief is a persuasive document, intended to persuade the judge that you are entitled to the relief you seek (i.e. dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint). As I read these cases, I read them with a fury and intensity unlike anything I had ever done in law school. The reason for this is that I read these cases with purpose- the purpose was to sift through the opinion until I could find law in support of my facts; or conversely facts in support of my law.
What I mean is that a lawyer reads cases in order to find precedent that will convince the judge that the particular issue has already been decided. It's called stare decisis. And as with anything in life, when you do something with purpose, it becomes easy and almost automatic.
In law school, however, you do not read the cases with a purpose, other than to avoid embarassment if the professor happens to call on you. But the truth is, you can't win that battle. The professor knows the questions and the answers. If the professor wants to embarrass you, then will.
So here's the secret. When you read a case, try and imagine that you are a practicing lawyer. You are reading this case because you want to find out more about particular issues(s). As you read the case, ask yourself why the writer included a particular fact or a discussion of the law. I assure you that there really was a reason. Try an imagine how subsequent judges would interpret this particular opinion. Would it be upheld or overturned? If so why; if not, why not? In short, work the facts and work the law. Read with as much purpose as you can. The purposeful work will enable the material to stick with you much more so than an attempt at brute memorization. It will likely also make you a better lawyer.
Regardless, if a case doesn't make sense, after you have given it your best shot (and perhaps a quick read of a commercial outline- also discussed in my book), then don't sweat it. There are simply poorly edited cases, poorly chosen cases or cases that are so old that they are merely a rite of passage for every neophyte law student. If they don't make sense, it is most likely not because you lack intelligence. It's simply because they are old, arcane "classics" that every professor relishes as a rite of passage for law students. Everyone's read them; everyone has struggled with them. And yet, we all somehow remember them.