Best of Wolters Kluwer Law School Tips: Week 5

Briefing 101: Part 1

Briefing Cases is a Critical Part of Taking an Active Role in Learning

You can’t brief a case without paying careful attention to it and dissecting it. This analysis can be more important to you studying than reading the case in the first place.

How to Brief
You may have learned how to brief cases during your orientation week at law school or in your Legal Writing course. Although individual formats differ, briefing almost always requires that you summarize the facts, the issue, the holding, the rules of law, and the rationale of a case. There are several things to keep in mind.

The Facts Will Be Presented in Greater Detail in Your Brief Than in Your Outline
In order to perform well in class, you must be very familiar with the facts of each case; the facts you list in your brief must “cue” your memory to recall every important fact of a case. Later on, if you decide to include the case in your course outline, you’ll need only the “TV Guide” facts: that is, bare-bones information of the sort you read in  TV Guide. In your outline, you’ll include only those facts that have a bearing on the rule the case establishes—the “material” facts, and no others.

A Brief Should Summarize, Not Duplicate
Sometimes, especially if you’re rushed, you’ll be tempted to copy statements from the case directly into your brief. Try not to do this. Passive transcription of sentences doesn’t force you to think about the case and so does not help you absorb information. Instead, try to summarize the case in your own words. (Of course, any rule or definition can and should be copied verbatim.) Copy passages only when you have no time to do anything else, and be sure that you understand the duplicated passages. Don’t copy passages just to avoid thinking about them. Don’t “book brief” a case—that is, identify the holding, rule, and so on only in the margins of your text—at least not until you’ve mastered the art of the full brief. Briefing takes time, but it pays off on exams.

Make a Note of the Dissent
If the dissenting opinion of a case is included in your casebook, note its main points; it’s there for a purpose. You may find the dissent particularly useful for providing arguments that support the other side of an issue on your exam. Additionally, dissents are often clearer than the majority opinion in discussing the legal issues presented by the case.    

Extracted from Strategies & Tactics for the First Year Law Student (Maximize Your Grades) by Lazar Emanuel and Kimm Alayne Walton

Coming next week: Briefing 101 (part 2)

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