"Practice-Ready" Lawyers Rely on Critical Reading Skills

Today we explore how critical reading skills enhance your legal research and, ultimately, the quality of your writing.

Legal employers value “practice-ready” lawyers. That term refers to lawyers who possess strong research and writing abilities coupled with a self-regulating growth mindset. Translation -- take the initiative to develop practical lawyering skills. Critical reading skills are an important weapon in a practice-ready lawyer’s arsenal.

High quality work product requires that attorneys successfully navigate each step of the writing process. Usefulness and reliability suffer when steps in the process are performed in an incomplete manner. This is especially true during the research phase. Here, critical reading skills are needed to find and use meaningful research results.

Critical reading builds the foundation of your analysis by helping to compile, synthesize, organize, and outline research results deductively by topic (rather than authority). Outlining, in turn, demonstrates self-regulating practice skills by compelling you to assess and test the topic scope, supporting authorities, structural paradigm, and fact proof. Moving to the drafting phase before outlining often generates an analysis that is confusing and not well supported. That then leads to more revision work than might otherwise be required.

Identified below are common critical reading principles and techniques. As you can see, they are easy to understand and closely track principles of logic and rhetoric. The catch, however, is making the time and effort to use these techniques. Good luck!

Keep a research journal to record your findings and reactions.

Maintain an open mind and objective perspective. You are seeking knowledge by observing ideas and information.

Read with a purpose, putting source material in proper historical and legal context.

Where does the source material fall within the hierarchy of authorities?

Who is the writer and is he/she subject to potential bias?

Identify rules, elements, explanations, rationales, policies, values, assumptions, inferences, and attitudes that form the underlying thesis or conclusion.

Are there any assumptions or inferences that need to be questioned?

Is there a need to engage in rule or interpretative synthesis and, if so, does the source material advance that goal?

Can you spot any gaps in the rule, facts, or rationale?

Do you agree or disagree with the conclusions and rationales? Why?

How well developed are the predictions or arguments?

Is enough fact-specific evidence offered to justify the conclusions?

Does the reasoning make sense in light of prevailing rules, policies, or practices?

Are you convinced by the interpretations presented?

How appropriate are the examples that are used? Are they sufficiently similar or distinct so as to support the conclusion? How do they compare or contrast to your own legally significant facts?

Does the writing assume a causal connection when there may not be one?

Can you identify alternative explanations or conclusions?