A case brief is a condensed version of a legal case that law practitioners will use to refresh their memory about the matter by reviewing key points. It is not a type of academic writing in the conventional sense as this type of document lacks strict rules for its composition. At first, it may seem that case briefs are made for the professors who will evaluate the work and give credit. However, summaries of lawsuits are written for personal use and are of most benefit to the writer. Neither judges nor clients will care if their law practitioner uses briefs; the results are what matters. Therefore, the central purpose of case summaries is to help the lawyer to practice law competently. Writing summaries is a crucial ability that contributes to the acquisition of reading skills and enables students to outline all relevant information from a case.
Case briefs are essential reference sources for law students, pinpointing the crucial aspects of a lawsuit, outlining the legal principles, and juxtaposing the case with other relevant course materials. Lawsuit summaries enable readers to review the facts of the matter in a short time instead of rereading a source that may contain a variety of irrelevant information. Moreover, case studies state the rules that were established in the particular cases, making them convenient for future use. Finally, short versions of court trials are usually supplemented with additional commentary from other relevant resources, making them a profoundly useful study tool. In short, brief studies are important legal instruments that facilitate successful practice.
How to Approach Writing a Case Brief
Before beginning to write, students must learn techniques for extracting information. While it is clear that legal briefs should include only crucial information, students may struggle with defining what is relevant to the case. At first, everything the judge says may seem essential and seems unwise to omit. Here is a list of criteria that can help in determining whether specific facts should be included in the summary.
- They remind you of the story. The included information should be specific in terms of the names, dates, actions, means of action, and the reasons for them.
- They are crucial for the judge to make his or her decision. For example, if it is important to the case that a car was white, then the color of the vehicle should be included in the brief.
- They concern the central issue of the case. While this may seem evident, court cases usually discuss multiple events and arguments that may be confusing. The relevant questions and conclusions are those bearing on the final decision of the court.
While knowing what information to look for is crucial, students should also be acquainted with reading tips that are helpful in extracting information:
- Use annotations. Reading with a pencil or a pen is pivotal for writing an adequate and well-constructed brief. Underline everything that may seem important, and make a note on the side of the page identifying the essential elements. Mechanical pencils are recommended for this purpose as they make finer markings than regular pencils or pens.
- Use highlighters. Buy a set of five or six highlighters of different colors and establish a system for using them. Each color should be used for separate reasons, using the brightest colors for the most important parts.
- Combine both methods. It can be helpful to use annotations together with a highlighter to make information extraction easier. However, avoid making the markings complicated and confusing to facilitate future reference.
In essence, before writing a brief, students should read the case several times with a pencil and highlighters and extract all relevant information from the text.
Structure and Writing Style
A case brief should contain and condense all relevant information into an outline. However, it may be difficult to determine what essential elements should be included in the case summary. As it is up to the student to decide whether an issue is valuable, the elements added to the paper can vary. However, all practitioners agree on five aspects that are crucial for a brief’s usability:
- Citation. Start by stating the name of the case, its parties, the year, and the name of the court. Consult your citation style guide, if needed, and organize the information accordingly for future use.
- Facts. Include a summary of what happened factually and procedurally during the hearing. All evidence and judgments can also be listed in this section.
- Issues. Explain the legal issues a court must decide by summarizing the legal issues that are addressed by the case. Writing yes/no questions that are expected to be answered by the court is a useful technique for this part of a brief.
- Holding. Describe what rules are applied and what the results of the case are, and state the judge’s decision. Make this part explicit and concise for future reference.
- Rationale. Give reasons for the holding provided by the judge during the hearing. While this part may not seem crucial, understanding the judge’s logic can be beneficial.
These five elements should be sufficient to recall the information before class or while preparing for a hearing in a court.
As briefs are intended for personal use, you may consider adding other elements that supplement the fundamental aspects of a case. Here is a list of suggestions that you may want to add to the five basic elements.
- Dicta. Make a separate section for the matter if a case gives a long commentary about the decision that was not the basis for the decision.
- Dissent. State and explain a dissenting opinion if one exists, providing all the relevant detail.
- Parties’ Arguments. Provide a detailed summary of the opposing arguments concerning the ultimate issue.
- Comments. Include all thoughts that do not fit elsewhere in the brief, adding mental notes about puzzling elements in the case, or assigning a category to the lawsuit that may be useful for quick access in the future.
No style regulations apply to case briefs as they are intended for personal use. However, the general recommendations of staying concise and using appropriate academic language are useful. In summary, case briefs are usually creative, and the writer is the one who decides what sections should be included and how to organize the writing.
Making case briefs is an essential competence for all law students, helping them advance in their studies and future career. They usually consist of 5 to 7 sections, each about a page long. Their structure is determined by the writer and can vary considerably depending on what the writer may find relevant. However, all such documents are valuable reference sources as they outline the crucial facts, issues, and holding of a lawsuit. In conclusion, while professors may have preferences and recommendations for their students, in law practice, case briefs are intended for personal use, and there are no rules or restrictions governing their composition.