How To Brief A Case: Part One
Law students “brief” cases as a method of preparing for class. A brief is a short summary and analysis of a case. It identifies issues, parties, the decision, and the underlying reasoning of the decision. While case briefs include the same information, they vary as to their form. Regardless of the method chosen, law students should check with their professors to ensure that they have chosen an acceptable method that will enable them to learn what they need to know for the final exam. In Part One of our blog on how to brief a case, we’ll focus on the informational aspect of the brief.
Student case briefs can be extensive, depending on the depth of analysis required and the demands of the instructor. Students typically develop this skill over the course of the semester. A comprehensive brief includes the following:
- Facts of the Case
- Decisions (Holdings)
- Reasoning (Rationale)
- Separate Opinions
The first part of the brief should list the parties by name and whether they are a plaintiff or defendant. It may be necessary to list the case’s citation. It’s not a bad idea to note the citation for future reference.
Start by summarizing the relevant facts and legal points that the case raises. A one-sentence description of the nature of the case can serve as an introduction. List the nature of the litigation, who sued whom, based on what factual events, and what happened in the lower court(s).
The facts are often conveniently summarized at the beginning of a published, dissenting, or concurring opinion. Keep in mind that, based on their viewpoint, judges are sometimes selective about how they describe and emphasize the case’s pertinent facts.
Next, identify the issues of the case. Many students misunderstand a case because they fail to see the issues in terms of the applicable law or judicial doctrine than for any other reason. Classifying issues as “procedural,” “substantive,” “legal issue,” etc., may help prevent this.
The court often expressly states the issues or questions of law raised by the facts. Try to phrase issues in terms of a question with a precise “yes” or “no” answer. Also, a case may be used by different instructors for different purposes, so you must always focus on identifying only those issues which are of priority to the topic under discussion.
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