If you're a law student or thinking about going into law school, chances are you know a little bit about the work load and studying. One part of studying and class preparation you may have heard of is "briefing" cases. As a law student, briefing cases is something that you will grow to be very familiar with and most likely do every day.
So what is briefing cases? Essentially, briefing cases is organizing the information of a case into notes in order to assist you with classes, writing assignments, or general understanding. Some students only do briefs for important cases, for certain classes, or only when required. Others, like me, do them for every single case. You might think that sounds like it takes a lot of time - and truthfully, it does.
So why should I brief cases? Well, the first reason I can give you is that it will ensure you have read and understood a case, or at least made an attempt. Secondly, it is *so* helpful when a professor cold calls you and asks for the facts of the case, and you can just look down to you brief and have a perfect little notes section already written up for you.
How do I brief cases? Well, there are several different ways to brief cases. One of the ways to brief a case is through the IRAC method (I have never personally done this, but check out Nikki's blog for a good explanation), similar to that is CREAC, which is essentially the same way as IRAC with different organization. However, I simply state the facts, procedure, issue, holding, rationale, dissent/concurrence, and rule. Below is a detailed explanation with examples:
- CASE NAME AND CITATION: This is self explanatory. If the case is from a textbook, I also put the page number so I can easily reference the case later. Example:
- John v. Jim, 123 Fake Ct. 456, pp. 789
- FACTS: So this is what actually happened in the case. For example, in this section I would write something along the lines of :
- John was riding in the passenger seat of Jim's car. While they were driving down a highway going 65 miles per hour, Jim had a seizure which caused him to lose control of the wheel and crash into a barrier on the side of the road. Jim was an epileptic and knew he could have seizures at any time.
- PROCEDURE: This is where you write facts related to the procedure of the case, and how it moved through the court system. This could be fairly simple, or more complicated, especially if it is an appellate or Supreme Court decision. Say in our example, we have a state court appellate decision:
- John brought a civil suit against Jim for negligence. The trial court found a verdict in favor of John, the plaintiff, awarding him monetary damages. Jim appealed on the basis that the statute regarding negligence in motor vehicle accidents was interpreted incorrectly, because the statute prevents passengers in motor vehicles from bringing civil action unless the driver was grossly negligent. The appellate court affirmed the decision of the lower court.
- ISSUE: This is where you state the actual issue that the court is deciding. Better phrased, this is where you state the question the court is asking. This is usually something that is very specific, and can be answered with a yes or a no. In our example:
- Is a driver grossly negligent if they operate a motor vehicle with knowledge of epilepsy?
- HOLDING: In this section, you will state the court's answer to the question they asked in the issue section. You don't need to explain why, that will be in the next section. So our example would be:
- Yes, a driver would be considered grossly negligent in operating a motor vehicle with knowledge that he has epilepsy.
- RATIONALE: The rationale section of your case brief will likely be the longest, other than maybe the facts section. This is where you explain the courts reasoning and why they made the decision that they did. Our example could be something like this:
- According to the statute in this jurisdiction, a passenger cannot sue following a motor vehicle accident unless a driver is grossly negligent. Plaintiff in this case claims that Defendant was grossly negligent by operating a motor vehicle while he knew he had epilepsy. In order to satisfy the element of negligence, one must prove that a reasonable, prudent person would not have done the act. The court reasonably believes that a reasonable person would know the danger and thus would not have driven. Because a reasonable person would not have driven, Defendant is determined to be grossly negligent.
- CONCURRENCE/DISSENT: In some cases, other Justices/professionals will have opinions that are different than the opinion of the majority. Here, you would write a sentence or two about why they agreed or disagreed.
- RULE: This is arguably the most important section of your case brief. In this section, you will explain the rule you learned from the case. You could get several rules out of one case, but often you will only have one that is relevant to what you are supposed to be learning in class. Say in this class, you are learning about negligence and the basic requirements. So for the rule you would write:
- In order for someone to be acting negligently, they would need to be acting in a way that a reasonable, prudent person would not have acted.
And that's all she wrote! That is a typical case brief that I do for each case, every single class. Now, you have to remember that you might not have every section for every case. Most cases don't have a concurrence or dissent, and some you don't need to write about procedure. Many cases, each section will only be a sentence or two. And most of the time, the only person that will read your briefs is you, so you only need to write them for your own understanding.
I definitely recommend writing or typing out briefs for every case. It helps me understand what each case is about and fully understand it before I get to class and potentially get cold called. Obviously, there are other ways to brief cases and you might find your own style. For those of you looking for a starting point, I hope this helped.