Lesson 22 of 21
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4.1: Knowing the Purpose of a Case

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” Reading Strategy: Know the Purpose of a Case

Goal:

  • To learn strategies that help you think about the purpose of a case in order to help you read cases more strategically and efficiently.

Instructions

  1. Read paragraphs 1 and 2 below.
  2. Then look at the sample Contracts outline further below.
  3. Try to answer the question.
  4. Then click each “Here?” button to see the instructor’s suggested answers.

1. Thinking about “purpose” when reading

  • If you’re a doctor, and you’re getting ready to treat a patient, you probably want to know some information about the person and what you’re looking for when you examine the patient.
  • Similarly, if you were going to teach a class on law in your own country, you would probably want to consider the purpose of the lesson and your teaching goals.
  • Think about a court opinion the same way. Before you start to read, you should ask yourself questions like:
    • Why am I reading this case?
    • What am I looking for?
    • What does the professor want me to understand about this case?
    • What do I need to understand about the case to help my client?

2. Tip: Use your syllabus, table of contents, or other outline to help think about your reading purpose

  1. Look at your course syllabus and/or the table of contents of your casebook. 
  2. Look for the topic heading or sub-heading where your case is. 
  3. Look at some of the other topic headings or sub-headings before and after your topic heading.
  4. Think about how the topic headings are connected or related to each other. 
  5. This will give you better perspective on the particular case and what the case’s purpose is, i.e., what your professor wants you to take away from reading the case.
  6. If you’re in a law school class, before reading a case always ask yourself: Why is the professor asking us to read this case?”

Question:

    1. In the sample Contracts outline below, decide which heading or subheading is the best category for the Lefkowitz case.
    2. Then click on each “Here?” button to see the instructor’s suggested answers for each option.
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The Lefkowitz case does not really concern the purpose of a contract. Instead, the case concerns formation of a contract.

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The outcome of the Lefkowitz case depends on the existence of an offer. If defendant store made an offer, then plaintiff shopper had the power to accept the offer and form a contract.

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While the Lefkowitz concerns formation of a contract, the issue is not really whether plaintiff shopper accepted the offer. The question was whether the defendant store made an offer that plaintiff could accept.

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A contract cannot be enforced if it is too indefinite – – tentative – – so there is no concrete agreement. But the issue in Lefkowitz was not really whether the agreement was too indefinite. The issue was whether the offer was sufficiently specific such that plaintiff shopper had the power to form a contract by accepting the offer.

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U.S. Contracts require consideration – – an exchange of value. But law students do not read Lefkowitz to better understand consideration. Instead, they focus on the court’s reasoning as to whether defendant store made an offer to plaintiff shopper.

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This answer might look possible because defendant store in Lefkowitz is arguing that there was no contract so it might look like defendant is %22avoiding%22 a contract. But avoiding a contract refers to circumstances where the parties formed an agreement but one party argues that the contract should not be enforced. Here, defendant is saying there was never a contract because there was no offer.

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Now that you know the purpose of reading the case – – where it is supposed to “fit” in your syllabus – – you will be able to read the case with greater understanding.

 

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