Deconstructing Legal Analysis, a 1L Primer
By Peter T. Wendel
(Aspen Publishers, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, $32.95, 9/30/2009). 224 pages, Index, line illustrations. Paper. ISBN: 9780735584754
Reviewed by Betsy McKenzie, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA
Law students and young lawyers need all the help they can get with legal analysis. I was very excited to see a book focusing entirely on legal analysis. I should reveal that I know and like Peter Wendel, from the years that I spent working at St. Louis University. All of which makes it all the more tragic that I am very disappointed in this book and find it not at all the book to fill the vast need I see for teaching students how to do legal analysis. I looked in the book, and my heart sank; I really felt like I did not understand half of what he was trying to explain. My first impulse, as in law school, was to blame myself. This is exactly how most students will react, and why I cannot recommend this book.
Perhaps to underscore how awful the traditional, “darwinian” sink or swim teaching of legal analysis is, Professor Wendel chooses to illustrate it (and legal analysis through a good bit of the book) with the 1805 property case of Pierson v. Post, written in archaic language. I am afraid that the choice and continued use of the case is very off-putting. The student is confronted immediately with anxiety-inducing language. Professor Wendel does his best to explain the case, and to steer the student through the legal process, using diagrams and explaining what the law professor will expect of the student. But it takes him to page 67 to get through the basic briefing on the Pierson v. Post case, and another ten pages to discuss adding hypotheticals. The diagrams are not clear, and the explanations are murky. At page 79, we are nearly half way through the book, and just beginning to look at a second case, on adverse possession.
Part II of the book is The Exam Taking Process. This portion of the book is not so confusing. But it is verbose, and has been done elsewhere, better. Wendel covers exam essay-writing, analyzing issues, issue-spotting, organization of the exam essay, multiple choice questions, and includes watching your time on the exam. He discusses the very important post-exam self-diagnosis. I do like that Wendel illustrates how to synthesize a series of cases. I applaud a late chapter that discusses statutory construction. This is something rarely covered in law school these days, and much needed. The book concludes with “Miscellaneous Law School and Exam Taking Tips.”
However, I compare this book, which focuses entirely on legal analysis, against Succeeding in Law School, by Herbert Ramy (Carolina Academic Press) 2006, $22.00 (250 pp • paper • ISBN-10: 1-59460-189-5 • ISBN: 978-1-59460-189-7 • LCCN 2006010128 ). While Ramy’s book includes a single chapter specifically on legal analysis (pp. 111-122), many of the other chapters deal with things that Wendel includes in his book:
legal synthesis (pp. 101-110),
legal writing generally (pp. 123-162),
and law exams specifically (pp. 173-206).
Ramy goes out of his way to explain the law school process, the legal process and to make things clear and easy to understand. The layout is easier to follow, with little boxed “Herb’s Hints” sprinkled throughout. He writes succinctly, and adds useful hints such as managing stress and time throughout law school as well as at exam time. Herb Ramy is the Director of Academic Support at Suffolk University Law School and a former legal writing professor, and his specialized focus shows in his style and coverage. Ramy’s professional life is assisting students to master the art of law school, including legal analysis and exam-taking. But he sees the fall-out of depression and lack of time-management skills and the toll they take on law school populations. He offers help to the law student, not only in managing the tasks of succeeding in the classroom, but in the hallways after class. Ramy includes a sample law school exam and sample quizzes and problems with answers in the back of the book to see how you did. While Wendel ostensibly offers chances for the reader to do exercise, there are no problems, no sample answers, no tests offered in the book. The Ramy book is a much better choice for libraries and for individuals looking for an aid to legal analysis and exam-taking skills.