I've relied on a modified version of the highlighting method...
Especially when first starting out, you never know exactly which category what you're reading falls into until you've read the case.
Very rarely are opinions clear enough to make those distinctions while reading, especially the older cases, which will take up good portion of the 1L curriculum...
Instead what I did, which will most likely only work for a select few of you, is I grabbed four differently colored highlighters and I started in, and when I found that there was a substantive change in what I was reading, I changed colors. I think I reserved one color, green for me, for things that didn't immediately make sense. This way you see how the opinion evolves, where things change up, and then you can underline or bracket key words and phrases with a different color highlighter (that isn't green) for emphasis. Again, this will only work for some, but I think the point of all of this is to throw all the methods out there and for you to pick the one or two that you think would work for you. BTW, I'd say the majority of my classmates that began with the LSC method, eventually fell back to a variation of this. Also, this method gives you incentive not to fully rely on the book briefing, which, while it has saved many on cold calls, it ultimately does them in, because they've relied on having it in the book and not having to understand the flow of the case.
Also, many cases are written so you think they're holding one thing and then in the last sentence they switch it, so all your highlighting, effectively uneraseable, is wrong.
Then again, I don't have the patience or time to read everything twice.
As far as books are concerned, I'll echo the experiential books discussed above, but if you want to get into the substance, which some do and some don't... there are two series of books that I wish I had glanced at before starting in... Now there is a large, possibly overwhelming number of people out there who will vehemently disagree with this and call it a waste of time and energy and tell you that it doesn't matter 'cause you're not gonna get anyway so don't even try. For those of you who don't much care what they say...
1) Foundations of [insert course title] Law
Published by Foundation Press
Essentially compilations of fundamental theoretical articles in a coherent order that are relatively easy to read that introduce you, both to the subjects generally, but also to the deeper fundamental concepts underlying what you're learning. Some profs assign them, others don't.
I wish I had read them before classes started.
2) The LexisNexis Series of Hornbooks
I know, I know...
This will be for the crazier of you...
Reading casebooks is actually worthless, b/c you won't know what you're supposed to be getting from them and what you're not and it may actually hurt you to have read them and this goes for briefs and outlines too.
While the LN Series of Hornbooks are long... really long... and really in-depth, they set out the material directly, concisely and clearly in a way and at a depth that you'll need to be understanding in order to do well in any decent school.
I think they can be read like a novel.
1 of my profs practically taught from it... like verbatim... it was kinda sad actually when we found out... OK, we're not 100% sure, but if we're wrong, then the book is that good.
If you don't look at it before, which 99.9% of you won't, get it and read it along with the case book from the beginning.
There will be a violent reaction to this, but if you wanna get down and go crazy, these are decent options for material that is directly on point.
Go nuts... and stop worrying, it's not that bad... most people have more fun, and go out more in law school, and we're talking top-tier, than ever before... relax...