How To: Brief a Case

Briefing a case is one of the most important things you need to learn to be successful in law school. Luckily, it's pretty easy to learn, and you will get better at briefing the more you do it.

So, what is a brief? A brief is a pretty much a summary of a case. Personally, I brief all of the cases I read just because it helps me organize the information. Sometimes, an opinion may be wordy, include information that is irrelevant to what you are learning, or just be difficult to read. A brief allows you to pull out the important info and be prepared for a cold call.

The more you brief and read cases, the more you will tailor your liking. Everyone's brief will look a little different, but there are some things that will be on every brief.

  • Case Name: This is pretty obvious, as you need to know what case you are looking at.
  • Citation: Some students I know don't include this, but I do. A citation is the location of the opinion in a reporter. Some students will also include the page the case is on in our casebook as a quick reference.
  • Facts: All briefs will include some facts of the case, to give context to the holding and rule of law.
  • Procedural History: Procedural History is what has happened previously in a case (for example, how the trial court ruled on it). I include it for context and because some of my professors specifically highlight the procedural history. Some students do not include this section, unless the procedural history is extremely unique or important to the case.
  • Issue: This is an essential part of the brief. The issue is what the entire case (or the part you are reading for class) is about. Opinions may sometimes explicitly state what the issue is or they may require you to read between the lines to determine the issue
  • Rule of law: As the most important part of the brief, every brief will have rule of law. (The rule of law will be what is important to know of finals too). The rule of law is pretty much what the court said about the specific issue raised in the case. 
  • Holding: This is what the court decided. Sometimes, the case will include a sentence that starts "We hold that...". This is a pretty big clue that the opinion is about the say the holding. Sometimes, this may overlap with the rule of law.
  • Reasoning: This is why the court held what it did. Sometimes, it will apply the facts of the case to the law. Sometimes, it may be a new reasoning. Sometimes, it will be a combination of the two or something completely different. However, this is a key aspect of a brief because it states why a court held the way it did. In my briefs, I combine holding and reasoning into one section because they are related.
  • Dissenting/Concurring Opinion: Finally, I include any dissenting or concurring opinions. Some of my professors specifically ask about or mention the reasoning of the dissenter. It may also be important to note if the opinion you are reading follows the minority view and the dissenting opinion holds the majority view.
Well, that's everything I include in my case briefs! Is there anything else you include that I don't? Leave it in the comments!


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