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Read like a Lawyer: Strategies for Reading more Effectively

Woman balancing books on her head

As a law student (and future legal professional), try as you might, you won’t be able to avoid all that reading. As such, many people will tell you that if you don’t like reading, you’re not going to enjoy being a lawyer. Although I see what might be meant by this comment, I have to disagree. I love to read but I don’t always (if ever) love reading cases, legislation and other legal materials. What I have realised, perhaps far too late in my journey through law school, is that reading for law is a different story to reading for pleasure.

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy being captivated and drawn into the world of a good book and although some cases can be just as captivating (my inner law nerd showing himself) reading cases like novels is not an efficient way to study or work. So to help you out, I’ve put together a list of questions and helpful tips to assist you to read more efficiently and effectively.

The Reading Checklist

WHAT? Understanding the text you’re reading is an essential first step to effective reading. If you’re reading legislation, you know every word matters, but if you’re reading a transcript or a journal article you might be able to approach reading the document differently.

WHY? Are you doing weekly readings for class discussion? Or are you preparing notes for an exam? Consider the reason you are reading the text as it will help you to decide which reading technique you need to employ.

WHEN? This is a two-part question: when do you need to read it by and when is the best time to read? Knowing your deadlines and prioritising your reading assignments is essential to tackling the gargantuan required readings of law school.

Equally as important is knowing what time in the day you will have the most success at reading. There is no use getting up at 6AM to start your reading when you know you’re not a morning person. You know yourself, so schedule in your reading around the time of day your most productive. Concentration is key.

WHERE? Speaking of concentration, employ a bit more of your keen self-awareness and choose a place to read that works for you. I personally can’t read in libraries full of students and much prefer to read in the park, or in a café. If you don’t know where is best for you just try different places until you find one that works.

Preview the text

Previewing is used to get a general idea of what the text is about without engaging closely with the body of the text. Use the table of contents, headings, the abstract and chapter summaries to put together what the text is about and what parts might be relevant to your purposes. Where useful abstracts or summaries are not available, reading the first and last paragraphs of sections, or first and last lines of each paragraph can also be a way to preview a text.


Skimming is useful after previewing the text to search for important information that is elaborated on in the body of the text. Skimming basically involves casting your eye quickly over the text and looking for markings that may indicate important information. This could be in the form of formatting like italics, bolding or underlining.


Scanning is a technique that involves using a pointer (your finger, or a pen/pencil) to help regulate the speed at which you read. I use this technique the most and it has helped me immensely in focusing my reading and increasing my reading speed. To scan, you first need to have an idea of why you are reading the text and what you’re looking out for. Having this in mind, use your pointer to skim through the text for key words. Stop when you locate keywords and read more carefully before taking notes, or highlighting.

Hopefully these tips will help you to read more efficiently and effectively. There are plenty more strategies out there but ultimately the most important thing is to find an approach that works for you. Happy reading!

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