Tips on Briefing Cases

  • Always read the footnotes.
  • If you’re having trouble keeping all of the facts of a case in your mind, writing brief notes after each paragraph is a good way of keeping track of the key points covered..

What to Look for in Briefing a Case:

Key Facts—The most important facts in the opinion will be the facts that affect the legal questions; these are usually addressed in the court reasoning, which makes it easier to identify them.

Procedural History—How did the case get here? (This is usually somewhat less important)

Issue(s)—The legal questions being decided (obviously these are of near-primary importance); these are sometimes stated clearly and sometimes not.

Result—How the issue was answered—yes or no.

Court Reasoning—Why did the court decide the case as it did? (This is the most important part). Look for the biggest reasons more than the tiny details. Also, courts often say the same thing in several ways. Look at major analytical steps taken in reaching a conclusion; this may involve reading between the lines. The two types of reasoning are the rule explanation and rule application.

Holding—What does the case contribute toward the rules of law? (This is the hardest part). Often, there are many possible interpretations of a ruling. Usually, it is best to choose the narrowest interpretation that is consistent with the language used within the opinion, but it may also be wise to consider the context of other cases and the course as a whole.

Note: The words “holding” and “rule” are often used interchangeably to describe this.

TL;DR (or, in a pinch): Read the case quickly, in the context of the book. Isolate the key issues. Simply write down the key issues and surrounding specific facts. That ought to be enough to discuss in class, if you find yourself pressed for time in reading the case.

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