See With Your Mind, Read Between the Lines

In an ideal world, you can expect all relevant details and information to be disclosed to you. Be it from your client, employer or the exam papers. Also, in an ideal world, you can expect the cases and problems you need to address are all clear cut and purely academic. But in that ideal world, wouldn’t it be boring? As a Law student, a skill which you should acquire in 3-4 years of legal education and training is this: reading between the lines.

Reading between the lines?

Imagine you, as a client, talking to your lawyer. Would you actually disclosed every detail? Example you’re asking for divorce. Will you tell what on earth were you doing with the other person – who is not your spouse – in your birthday suit at 3 am in the morning at a cheap hotel? Maybe your account is not meant to conceal things. Another probability is that you would forget certain details. Perhaps you were drugged before you were dragged to the hotel.

Sometimes, the things that aren’t explicitly mentioned are critical to your case. These small insignificant details, you thought, would have no effect. Sorry to say, in many a times, your overlooking of these information could result in your own loss.

Let’s be practical on the subject, shall we?

Case law. You are asked to read Donoghue v Stevenson or Re Webster. Next tutorial class, you are to present it and submit a report. Alternatively, you were assigned Stephen Kalong Ningkan and are asked to prepare a case brief/report. What do you do? How can you tell an argument was from the respondent and the other from the appellant?

If you’ve opened up a case law, you would know that the details therein are: case name, keywords, summary, judgment. Yes, the lawyers representing each party are named as well. But you do not have ‘arguments by the plaintiff’ or ‘defendant’s submission’. Yes, again, some judges highlight who said what. But what if they did not?

Here’s where your ‘reading between the lines’ skill comes in.

Another illustration, a statute. A particular clause says so-so-and-so are prohibited? But does it also mean that not-so-and-so are all permitted? In your first year, you would be exposed to the rules of interpretation (i.e. Golden rule, mischief rule, literal rule, hybrid, etc). But the apply these you still need to know: what is this person not telling me but can be deduced – not assumed – from this scenario?

Why not ‘assumed’? A fatal mistake many do over and over again is defending their case based on pure assumption. When you deduce, you have a concrete evidence based on the scenario. When you guess, you are shooting in the dark. Personally, I don’t want my lawyer to d the later. It is a sure way to fail.

Another thing you should consider are the circumstances surrounding the problem. Remember, honour killing may be illegal and inhumane in some parts of the world. In a different part, it may be the best option. In cases such as defamation, you cannot assume that the parties involved grew up and are trained in England or Kuala Lumpur. Your clients can be from Ulu Kapit and Ulu Baram for all we know in real life. These circumstantial informations should be deduced and be used.

Now, let’s talk exam papers, shall we?

In the Finals, the information provided in the question paper are all relevant and meant to show something. Use it, manipulate it but do not resort to assumption unless you can deduce. Deduce, again, a la Sherlock Holmes. 😉 No one said the Legal Studies/Law programme was an easy, trouble free programme. :-p

Did you know that extra marks are allocated if you can detect the ‘hidden’ issues? Consult your lecturer or tutor for more details. Each subject has different approaches.

When you’re in UiTM, you will do the Literature Appreciation subject in your 4th Semester. Use this opportunity to be critical of literature. It’s a good foundation to reading between the lines.