Some of the most difficult cases you will read in law school will be the cases you tackle in the first few weeks of school. If you’re feeling lost while reading for class, you may find it helpful to learn more about our legal system and the organization of courts. Knowing why a case is being heard in a particular court and what that means will give you useful background information and context.

So what exactly do you need to know? Well, start with the basics. Make sure you can recognize when you’re dealing with an issue under federal law versus state law. Learn the names of the various federal courts and know their hierarchy (i.e. district courts, circuit courts, supreme courts). You should also understand what it means when a case is on appeal. These things may seem complicated or intimidating at first , but you should be able to learn these concepts with just a few minutes of research.

Learn the basic procedural steps and structure of our courts and you’ll give yourself some much needed context when reading cases!