Law school can be tough in more ways than one. One class that has a reputation for being a particular challenge is the legal writing course.
If you’re wondering what case briefs are and how to write them, this blog is for you!
To begin with:
A case brief is a summary and analysis of a court opinion, it summarizes the history and legal significance of a court’s decision. They are an extremely important part of law school because they will be required in almost all of your classes, on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, regardless of your focus area.
Case briefs make up around 25% of your workload in law school, as well as being required for your bar review course and at least one hour every time you take a law class. A good way to think about case briefs is that they are like mini-reviews in your basic legal writing courses. They summarize important cases or decisions that help you understand how law works.
A case brief is primarily a self-teaching tool; and as the name suggests, a case brief should be ‘brief’. A long brief eliminates the most important role of a brief: the boiling down of a complex case to its essence, you should structure them to meet your own needs. However, there are many formats proposed by various writers but the best method to use is the one that makes the most sense to you.
Now that we got to know the importance of case briefs, let us discuss how to write an effective case brief. Case briefs are tools for self-instruction and referencing. Different professors will ask you to include different elements in your brief. Although, their opinions may vary.
The four elements which are essential to any case brief are as follows:
- Facts (case name, parties name, details of what happened and in what manner, and the judgment in the matter )
- Issues (the matter in dispute)
- Holding (application of rule of law)
- Rationale (reasons behind the holding)
You may include your personal comments for better understanding. You might also consider dicta (observation of a judge non-essential to the verdict), dissent( if any valuable dissenting opinion exists) and both party’s arguments in addition to the four major elements discussed above.
Read, Re-read, Annotate, and Highlight the relevant information of the case.
Now you might be wondering, how to decide what is relevant?
When we start writing case briefs, everything stated by a judge to reach a decision seems relevant to the case. Not everything relevant to the case is important to your brief though. Remember that the purpose of preparing a brief is not to persuade people that the final judgment in the case is correct. Rather, it is to help in renewing your memory about the most relevant aspects of the case.
Let’s discuss what to include in each element discussed above:
- What are relevant facts to include in a brief? You should include the facts that are essential to reminding you of the story. It is important to remember the story to apply the appropriate law. Include all the facts which are determining factors of the case. You can consider excluding the procedural history, if it is not connected to the ultimate outcome. Keep it as short as possible.
- What are the relevant issues and conclusions in a brief? Generally, there is one major issue on which the court bases its decision. The court might discuss several intermediate conclusions or issues, you should stay focused on the main issue and conclusion which binds future courts.
- What should be the relevant Rationale? This is arguably the trickiest part of the case to figure out. Remember that while everything addressed may have been significant to the judge, it might not be relevant to the rationale of decision. The aim is to remind yourself of the court’s fundamental rationale and the major elements that influenced the judgement to favour one party or the other.
A brief should be just that: short!
Briefs that are too long or cumbersome are ineffective since they are difficult to scan while reviewing your notes. A brief that is overly short, on the other hand, will be useless since it will not provide enough information to refresh your memory. Your briefs should be no more than one page long. This will make organising and referencing them much easier.
Do not get discouraged. Learning to brief and finding out exactly what to include will take time and practice. The more you write case briefs, the easier it will become to extract the relevant information.