Edited Versus Unedited Cases:
I've been responding to David Post's interesting posts on law school case editing in the comment thread, and thought I would make some broader points in the main text for interested readers. As David suggests, I'm a fan of well-edited cases rather than unedited ones. In this post, I want to say a bit more on what that means and why, focused in particular from the standpoint of choices made by authors of law school casebooks.

  First, a caveat: Not all law school courses are the same, and as a result, not all casebooks can be the same. In some courses, the cases in the casebook provide the governing law: The author has no choice but to include them. That's mostly the case in public law courses like constitutional law or criminal procedure or administrative law. Although the casebook author has some discretion to chose which cases to use and in what order, a chunk of the cases have to be there because they provide the governing legal standards that students need to know.

  On the other hand, that's not true in many fields. In many areas, cases are merely demonstrations of one possible solution to a particular problem. They provide fact patterns and interesting discussions, but are not the only way. That's mostly the case in private law courses like torts or conflicts of laws; there may be particularly famous or influential cases that are often included, but the cases are used mostly for their facts or the example of their reasoning rather than because they are "the law." In these fields, no one case settles the law: Each jurisdiction can and often does take its own path. Given this division among courses, I think it's hard to come up with a single rule on how or whether cases should be edited. I think it depends in part on the course, and the role of cases in that particular course.

  With that caveat made, I think the question of edited versus unedited cases is really a subset of the broader question of how classroom materials should balance two competing needs: (1) the need for students to build and master general legal skills, and (2) the need for students to learn the specific subject matter of the course. Imagine a course built around either extreme. In a course built around need (1), the professor might give the students a tall stack of Westlaw printouts and tell them to go through the 30 or so cases and then find and master the 3 or 4 most relevant to the topic of the next day's class. In a course built around need (2), the professor would assign a treatise excerpt and would assign no cases at all.

  I think most current and former law students will appreciate that neither of these two extremes is ideal for most law school courses, and that most law school courses should strike a balance. The first approach would be overwhelming: Students would spend more time flipping through paper than trying to learn, and they couldn't do this every day for every class. On the other hand, the second approach fails to give students an accurate sense of how the law is made and how it is understood by practitioners. You have to methodically work your way through the original sources to learn the law in these caselaw-based fields. So for most courses, the best approach is some kind of balance between needs (1) and needs (2). (To be clear, there are several other interests beyond (1) and (2), but for now let's focus on the important tension between them.)