Law School Up Close

Learning Legal Reasoning Book Review

Title: Learning Legal Reasoning

Author: John Delaney

Pages: 152

Published: 1999

A Must Have Tool

Learning Legal Reasoning is a book that I would strongly recommend going out and getting if you are an incoming 1L. I abhor the old adage, now marketing speak, of ‘If you are only going to get one, get this one.’ but in the case of this book, I must use it. In other reviews, I say ‘this is something I’d read twice’, but I’m sure that I will read parts of this book 5 or 6 times.

The cases are well picked to progress in difficulty, and are actually really interesting. Part of why I love this book is that it has made me more excited to do the coursework, and the work of an attorney. It has also reinforced many of the same concepts as in physics, where knowing how to do something does not mean that you can apply that knowledge right away. After reading the second chapter thoroughly and taking notes on how to brief a case, I still came away with a brief more similar to the ‘Poor Brief’ for the first case. This is not because I missed any facts or rulings, but because I didn’t understand the nuances of ‘extricating the key facts’, deciphering the precise issue at hand, and completely struggled through the process of determining the procedural history. This failure was well-taken however, since I have so much time between now and school to improve my abilities by re-working these examples.

A Foundation For Case-Briefing

The second chapter is worth taking notes on as you read through it. This content is the scaffolding for the work you will be doing throughout the rest of the book, and constantly flipping back to parts during the next couple chapters definitely exhausted my patience. Take your time to paraphrase the case-briefing process outlined in the chapter, so that you can use it as a reference throughout the rest of the book.

The first case in Chapter 3 is short and sweet. Nevertheless, you may butcher the brief as I did since it is your first attempt. I would strongly encourage you to go back through the work after reading through and understanding the differences of the ‘Excellent Brief’ following the case and explanation. The differences between the excellent and the poor briefs are not as vast as you may imagine, and the more of the basics that you can get out of the way, the more you will be able to drill in on the subsequent briefs and focus on the finer details.

Final Thoughts

I thought that the last two chapters of this book were invigorating to read. Delaney portrays the viewpoints of different judge archetypes, and this section to me illustrates the importance for lawyers to think about the judge inside them. He talks about going beyond just “Engineering the Law” and how our different perspectives have disadvantages, but also open us up to some valid arguments.

I must thank Atticus Falcon, author of Planet Law School 2 for recommending this book adamantly. I might not have heard of it otherwise. The book is more like in shape to a workbook than a typical book you may find on the shelf, and just over 100 pages. Nonetheless, it will give you a good experience in briefing cases, and some fun issues and ideas to present in a dinner table conversation.


Ted Rand