Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Learning the law through self-education

There are any number of reasons why you might want to study law as a self-educator: maybe you are a law student and you want to do some research for a law review article or study an area of law that you aren't currently taking a class in. Or you might be thinking of going to law school in the future, but you want to see whether you are actually enjoy the study of law. Or you might be studying politics and government or teaching it at the high school or college level. Or you might be interested in American history and the role of law and the Supreme Court in shaping U.S. institutions.

There is, of course, no substitute for going to law school. It is repeated ad nauseum in guides to the study of law that one must learn not only cases and "black-letter" law, but also "how to think like a lawyer."

However, whether you are in law school currently or interested in the law but unable to attend law school, there is no reason to suppose that you are confined to the material in your classes, on the one hand, or entirely cut off from the study of law because you didn't go to law school on the other.

Here are a few suggestions:

-Visit The Oyez Project where, among other things, you can download MP3 audio files of Supreme Court cases

-Consider purchasing, or borrowing from the library, a copy of Peter Irons' book and audio collection May It Please the Court: The Most Significant Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court Since 1955 and its sequel, May it Please the Court: The First Amendment: Transcripts of the Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court in Sixteen Key First Amendment Cases.

-Add a few legal blogs, such as SCOTUSBlog, the Volokh Conspiracy, the University of Chicago Law Faculty Blog, and the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog to your daily or weekly reading.

-Purchase used, older editions of casebooks covering 1L (first year) course material from sources on Also check out the Examples and Explanations series.

-Rent some great legal movies from Netflix (while remaining aware, of course, that these will often not reflect the reality of the law or the legal professions).

-Create a Powerpoint presentation or flash cards with legal vocabulary and important cases.

-Sit in on some cases at your local courthouse. Ask to shadow the work of a lawyer or judge for the day.