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Law School Tips: Week 6

Briefing 101: Part 2

Preparing an Effective Written Case Brief

Your brief should contain these essential elements:

Case Information

The first thing to do when briefing a case is to identify the parties and the court. Who are the plaintiffs? The defendants? Necessary third parties? What court heard the case? Cases often involve multiple parties, and if you don’t understand the parties and the issues, you’ll be very embarrassed in class if your professor asks you, “So who won Jones v. Smith?” and you don’t know the answer.

Why Is This Case Here?

This is probably the most overlooked, but most important, part of the brief. Your job is to fit the case into the “big picture.” Is this a landmark case? A case included for its historical value? An example of a bad decision? A statement of the majority view? The minority view? Is the case here because the dissent  states an important view of the law? If you include a section in your brief explaining why this case is in your casebook, you will slowly develop a better sense of the relationship of one case to another and of the overall organization of the entire subject. (If you’re not immediately sure the case fits in or what it stands for, leave this section blank and come back to it when you have the answers.)

Fact Pattern (Substantive History)

This is a difficult part of the brief to write. The version of the case that appears in your casebook has been edited down from the original version. In real life, most cases deal with more than one issue. Because your casebook editor is interested in citing the case for a specific issue that ties the case to other cases on the subject, she will have edited out those sections of the original opinion that do not pertain to the issue being presented. Also, many judges love to write unnecessarily long and wordy opinions to flaunt their scholarship and erudition. Sometimes, therefore, the version that is printed in your casebook will contain many facts not relevant to the holding of the case.
Many instructors will tell you that the best way to brief a case is to write the facts first. This is bad advice. It saves a lot of time and effort to determine what the issues in the case are first and then reconstruct the facts of the case in the light of the issues you’ve spotted. All facts related in any way to one of the issues should be included in your statement of facts. All others should be ignored.

Additionally, you should come up with a keyword or keywords for each case. For instance, the torts case of Garratt v. Dailey involved a boy who pulled the chair out from someone, causing that person injury. The keywords for this case might be “boy pulls chair.” The keywords will help you remember the other facts of Garratt when you take your final exam; this, in turn, may help you to see an association between the Garratt case and a question on the exam.

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 3)

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