I have no legal training, but suddenly find myself, as a part of my duties, asked to read legal documents, -- principally regulations, draft regulations, and tribunal outcomes -- in a nominated non-executive and observer role (in international law, to the extent that this is relevant).

The purpose of this activity is mainly to look for trends, ambiguities, possible policy matters, the general "lie of the land" in some area, finding important issues among a great volume of material, and so on.

One area where I have found some weakness is in reading comprehension, particularly in he-said/she-said tribunal reports. I sometimes read too quickly, often with excessive emotional involvement and this can cloud my understanding. On later readings I sometimes find I've got quite the wrong end of the stick.

I know I can read these things correctly and carefully, but need some kind of drill, or exercises to avoid bad habits, such as rushing, allowing personal opinion to interfere too early, or "taking sides".

It strikes me that this must be a fundamental, entry-level skill for legal courses and so that there is probably training material out there. I've found a great deal of very easy stuff aimed at high-school kids, and some example LSAC reading comprehension tests which are also rather easy but probably strenuous enough to be doing some good. http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/prep/reading-comprehension

Is there a source for more of such material, or something slightly more advanced, some kind of Bumper Book of Reading Comprehension Worked Examples for Grown Ups or some other way, in spare time, I could work at this skill. Existing legal students must have a great many techniques for working on this skill?

  • The challenges in reading regulations, codes, and the like are several: obscure vocabulary (sometimes with uncommon meaning), jargon (sometimes generic legal and sometimes specific to the area of law), and long, complex sentences. Good luck w your project. – user3270 Jul 21 '16 at 14:19

Take your time!

Sadly, there are no shortcuts.

I am an Adjudicator and I get paid to make legally binding interim decisions on parties in dispute. Often, on a brief reading of the documents, my initial impressions can be very different from what I finally decide. You have to read carefully to determine the matters in dispute, read the law (for the 1,000th time) and decide how it bears on the particular facts.

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  • Presumably a copy of Black's Law Dictionary, or the like, would also be indispensable since no matter how carefully you read you also need to know when something is a "term of art" and has an unconventional or particular meaning. – feetwet Jul 23 '16 at 16:27

Have you tried summary note writing?

Read a paragraph (or if these are quite long/nonexistent, up to a fixed number of lines). Put down the subject text or change to a different document. Summarise the section you just read. Change back to/pick up the subject text. Read the next paragraph. Summarise, read, summarise, and so on.

You have now broken up the subject text into manageable pieces, and forced yourself to think about it a piece at a time. This will help prevent you from rushing through the whole thing.

You can now carefully analyse your initial impression summary by referring back to the subject text: why did you say Party A did not have the obligation claimed by Group B? How exactly did you think the principle stated by Chairperson X was meant to support Policy Z? This gives you another chance to check the details within a given understanding, now that you have some frame to view them in, so your focus is not divided between different levels of comprehension.

You may find you can revise your summary to better match a fact you had misread, or scrap it entirely as you find you were the wrong way around on an aspect of it, or strengthen it with additional examples. Then you've half-drafted a report on that text already; if you must come back to a key point from it in future, you'll have a reference sheet handy to tell you roughly where it is and what it's about.

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