How To Read Judgments Effectively


The practice of law as a vocation combines the expertise of law as well as the application. It derives its flesh and bones from the hard work done by lawyers instilled with passion. The constant thirst to learn about law and its nuances is required to be a good lawyer. In India, legal cases add to the intricacies of law, making it more challenging and intriguing. Case law analysis is an arduous as well as time-consuming task, which makes the effective reading of judgment even more important.

For judges, lawyers, law interns, law students and professors alike, case laws are an integral part of the legal profession. The statutes and legal cases together paint a cohesive picture of the law where the statute gives the skeletal framework, and the judgments expand the meaning and scope. These two aspects dovetailed bring out the true essence of the law. Therefore, it becomes essential to study and understand judgments.

Judgments are lengthy documents. An exemplary illustration of this point would be the landmark judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case which stretched up to 703 pages with SCC footnotes of 80 pages alone. On an average, judgments are about 30 to 40 pages long. Even then the task of reading judgments is not easy and takes time and effort. Therefore, it is imperative to read judgments effectively. But what does the effective reading of a judgment mean, is a pertinent question at this juncture. Effective reading means reading and understanding the judgment in its entirety within a short period of time. It would include comprehension as well as the application of the particular case law in a relevant manner.

One of the fundamentals before embarking on the analysis of case laws is to know the different constituents of judgments. It broadly comprises the name of the Court, followed by the names of the parties, citation, the facts of the case, the issues of law and fact, the findings of the Court, the arguments of the counsels of both the parties and finally the reasoning and the judgment. The judgment also has the names of the judges in the Bench. This becomes interesting as the ideology of the respective judges resonates throughout the judgment. For example, if we are reading a judgment by Justice Krishna Iyer, his ideology and beliefs are reflected in his judgments. Knowing about the judges help to understand the judgment more comprehensively as the reader is aware of the background and where specific thoughts and observations are coming from. This makes the exercise of case law analysis more intriguing.

The other constituents are equally fascinating. The most basic premise to start reading any judgment is the facts of the case. It gives a clear context about the legal cases and provides a practical situation for the application of laws. The exercise is akin to word problems where mathematical formulae are applied. Reading the facts and noting down the key points in one or two lines is a good practice. This is of great help when we read the subsequent parts of the judgment where these facts are referred to while explaining the rationale. The next part contains the issues of fact and law. This is the dicey part of the judgment as the application of the legal principles, and the arguments of the parties are based on the issues of law and facts. To read the judgment effectively, it is of utmost importance that the issues are appropriately understood in the context of the facts of the case. The arguments of both the counsels are on the questions of law and fact, where they assist the court in justice dispensation. Argument formation is an art, and this portion of the judgments is instrumental, especially to the young professionals who have embarked on the journey of law. This skill is gradually developed by reading more and more judgments and watching the luminaries in court.

The ratio decidendi is probably the most captivating part of the judgment where the court summarises the observation and applies the principles in the legal cases. It contains the ethos of the entire judgment and is the interpretation of the law. The proper reading and understanding of the ratio decidendi is the core of case law analysis. More often than not, the ratio also entails other judgments and legal cases on which the court has relied upon to come to a particular conclusion. This portion needs to be carefully read and analysed in such a manner the judgment may be relevantly used to the current scenario. It is always a good idea to have bare acts and to read the sections mentioned in the judgment to grasp the meaning in a wholesome manner.

Once the reader has thoroughly read the judgment, then begins the arduous task of analysis. This is the most challenging part of the entire process. The quantum and clarity of understanding can be gauged in the interpretation and the application of the case law to suit the current case relevantly. It is one of the many things that all law professionals, especially interns have to do on a daily basis. It is advisable to read additional material with regards to the ratio and the topic of the judgment to increase the relevance and efficacy of the entire exercise. It is essential to be able to understand the nuances and lacunae, therefore, resulting in better quality of analysis and application.

In today’s day and age, it is not only quality that matters but also the speed at which the work is delivered. Therefore, time is of the essence and efficient legal research is the need of the hour. It cannot be denied that legal cases and their study is an integral part of the profession. With the advancement of technology which has touched every aspect of human life, the legal field is no exception. Access to research material is no more an impediment. A few years ago, online searches were based on rudimentary Boolean method. But over the years, research has become more comfortable with the assistance of tailor-made legal research portals which cater to the needs of the legal profession.

Technology and research go hand in hand. Innovators and entrepreneurs have understood the requirement and needs of the industry. They have utilised a combination of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Analytics to develop a product which has revolutionised legal research, in the form of Legitquest. Unique features such as iDRAF and iGraphics increase the efficacy of legal research, thereby, making Legitquest an exclusive legal research portal.

Case law analysis is a time-consuming task. But with features in legal research portals such as iDRAF, where the final decision of the Court, the reasoning employed, the arguments of both the sides and also the facts of the case are available at the click of a button, the whole process of research becomes faster. Now the reader does not have to read the entire judgment word by word, and by only reading the highlighted portions, will be able to gauge the relevance and applicability of the respective cases. The other key feature, iGraphics is a brilliant innovation which condenses the treatment of case law in the form of a graph. One does not have to waste time reading the judgment anymore, only to find out that it has been overruled. These two innovative features not only enhance the efficiency of legal research but also improve the quality of work as only the most relevant data is extracted from the database and produced to the reader for perusal.

Legal research portals and search engines are only aids in the process of judgment analysis. However, to improve the efficacy, it is crucial to acquire the skill set of using these legal research portals to the optimum level. This skill set along with that of efficiently reading will enhance the efficacy of case law analysis and in turn that of legal research, four-fold.

Legitquest aims to assist researchers not only by providing access to the most relevant information, but also enhancing efficiency and productivity of the process of legal research. However, the ability to grasp the matter in an efficacious manner and then applying it is a skill that needs to be polished in an individual capacity. The more a lawyer reads, the better he will comprehend and more skillfully will he be able to incorporate it in the arguments. Effective judgment reading in a short span of time and then expressing it cohesively and cogently is the real skill which every lawyer aspires to sharpen, and this is only possible if there is patience and the zeal to learn more about law. Lawyers and legal professionals are considered zealots, fighting against the injustice in society. It is the duty of legal professionals to protect the citizens and their rights. It is often said that with great power comes great responsibility. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the knights in shining armour garbed in black robes to continually strive to achieve excellence in the field by sharpening their skill-sets.