By Professor Herb Ramy
Director, Academic Support Program, Suffolk University Law School
It is quite common to be confused after class. You have just covered a new legal principle, and you may be struggling to fully comprehend how it works or how it relates to other rules you covered earlier in the semester. When this occurs, it is your responsibility as a graduate student to conduct additional research in order to clear up your confusion. This is an essential part of being an active participant in your own education!
The good news is that you can find a single-volume treatise – we call them hornbooks – that correspond to every one of your first-year classes. Some professors recommend these resources on their syllabi, and others may have preferred hornbooks that they can suggest to you. Some of the more popular hornbooks for your first classes include: Understanding Criminal Law by Dressler; Calamari and Perillo on Contracts; and the Glannon Guide to Civil Procedure.
Which book you use is less important than consistently consulting resources like these. Even when you think you understand a given principle, secondary sources will give you additional insights into the law and answer questions that you did not even think to ask.
Consulting outside resources, however, is not a substitute for reading cases, taking notes, and reviewing material after class. Each Professor emphasizes certain concepts, and may de-emphasize others. In addition, Professors often put their own spin on how they want you address individual legal problems. For these reasons, secondary sources can supplement reading cases and taking notes, but cannot take their place.
When you incorporate secondary sources into your review process, you will develop a deeper understanding of the legal principles being covered each week. Because these individual principles are often related to each other, your review is also preparation for reading cases and materials for upcoming classes. Thus, your review of a topic helps complete the circle of studying that began with reading a case.