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How to Write a Legal Case Brief
Law students take on a lot during their formative years in law school: the dreaded classroom recitation, the extremely difficult exams , and so on. Most of all, however, law students drown themselves in readings, readings, readings. Nearly 90% of the average law student’s time is dedicated to scouring each and every detail of a given case. How much money was embezzled? When did the murder take place? What was the issue in the case?
The greatest challenge with readings comes during examination week. Picture this: almost a hundred of cases being assigned everyday, amounting to thousands by the time finals week comes. Does the average law student even have time to read through all of those cases again? This is where writing a legal case brief comes in.
Put simply, a legal case brief is a summary of the court decision on a case. The legal case brief is the law student’s ultimate tool to not only surviving but thriving in his academic career as a law student. In order to write a legal case brief, however, there is a particular process that must be followed to write an effective legal case brief.
Read, read, read!
Before writing a summary of a case that can be read in a much shorter period of time, the original text of the case itself has to be read fully.
This goes without saying. A summary of a story cannot be made without reading the story itself. Similarly, a summary of a case has to begin with reading the case itself. It is a long-time investment: there is a lot of time dedicated at the beginning so that only a little time would be expended later on.
With legal cases, however, a much keener attention to detail is required. In recitation sessions and in exams, one of the criteria that professors will have in assessing a law student’s performance and knowledge of the Law is definitely how well he sharply and attentively remembers each detail of a case.
Before proceeding to the next step, pay attention to the header:
Read, read, read!
Reading is a non-negotiable skill that college undergraduate students must have, and one that law students must master and refine in their studies.
This cannot be stressed enough. Law students are expected to read the cases more than just a few times. On average, it is more accurate for law students to be expected to have read the cases in-and-out, around ten times. This makes them tap into their memorization skills and attention to detail.
Noting the significant details
Taking down the significant details of a case is the next step in writing a legal case brief.
For emphasis, significant details, not just details. Before listing the significant details, a disclaimer has to be made:
A law student should not write every possible detail about the case, only the ones that matter to the discussion.
A common mistake among many law students is that they attempt to memorize every fact and piece of data about the case—even the tiny ones. One must have faith in knowing that he does not need to exceed his current intellectual capacity just to remember every timestamp that the case mentions.
More importantly, the essence of a legal case brief is that it is brief: it states only what is required. To illustrate the point even more clearly, think of this question:
If legal case briefs tells all the details about the case, even the trivial ones, what difference does it make from just reading the case itself?
Hence, there must be a strict consideration on which details are significant . As guidelines, the following serve as vital data for your legal case brief:
“Facts” seem like a general term—everything in a case file is a fact.
What are being referred to here as “facts” are the basic information of the case. The following are what are being accounted as facts:
- Name of the case and case number - A case cannot be discussed without knowing the name of the case first. In terms of the case number, it depends on the professor or the class whether memorizing and mentioning the case number is important.
- Names of plaintiff/s and defendant/s - To summarize, the plaintiffs are the ones suing, the prosecution; the defendants are the ones being sued or charged, the defense.
- Sequence of events that led to the case - A brief narrative of what happened which led to the plaintiffs suing the defendants.
- Grievances of the plaintiff/s - These are the points of dispute being raised in court which serve as the foundation of why the plaintiff/s is/are suing the defendant/s.
The “issue” being raised here refers to the points of conflict between the plaintiff/s and the pertinent law/s at hand. Legislation, as it is, tries to provide a comprehensive set of laws and provisions to cover every right and incident. However, there will always be some point where certain laws have to be interpreted in order to solve a case.
Among the most significant cases, nicknamed as “landmark cases ” because of their impact in legislation, the source of the issue is the laws themselves. Constitution is the very foundation of the legislature, one that is hard to change unless there is a gaping hole through which there could be discrimination.
The issue is best expressed in question form, specifically the kind that is answerable by either a “yes” or “no.”
“Held,” in other words, refers to the summary and conclusion of the entire argumentation in the case. Basically, it contains the answers to the questions posed by the issue, formulated together during the case. As such, it is written with a “yes” or “no,” followed by a brief explanation behind such an answer.
Sometimes, it is important to show the arguments of the dissenters—those who went against the case of the plaintiffs. They should be presented only if they prove to be substantial to the case. To determine whether they are, they have to take up a bulk of the argumentation, with a sizable portion of the court agreeing to the dissenter’s case.
In total, what is held is the ultimate decision of the court, given everything that has been discussed.
Writing the legal case brief
Now that you have noted down the details, it is time to finally write the legal case brief.
With how it was outlined above, writing the legal case brief is easy. Often, an essay form is used, with each section having its own header for easier division and location upon reading.
Remember, however, that among the most important aspects of a legal case brief is that, well, it is brief. As mentioned before, the legal case brief is a summary of a court decision. It allows law students to have a quick review of a past court case. However, it does not stand in for reading the actual case.
A notable weak point with legal case briefs is that, since they are written usually by law students themselves, some details can be missed out—be it minor or major ones. An effective legal case brief can spell the difference between passing with flying colors and passing through the waves.
In the end, a legal case brief is used to jog the memory. Nothing really stands in for reading the actual case.
Revisiting and revising the legal case brief
Picture this: the legal case briefs have been made. After passing off the nerves and the dread from your professors’ index card shuffling, you successfully fended off every question your professors across your classes give, in large part thanks to the legal case briefs that you made. By the same legal case briefs, you have been able to pass the exams—even the Bar exam—with flying colors. Now that your academic career in law school is over, it is high time to throw away the legal case briefs, right?
The importance of legal case briefs go beyond helping the law student go through law school. It extends beyond that, even during the professional years when the law graduate is committing to his practice. Whenever a difficult case is encountered, it becomes vital that the law student returns to previous cases as past references or, in legal terms, precedents. In the hectic life of the then-law student, now-practicing lawyer, the brief amount of time transfers from college to professional life.
Hence, legal case briefs still retain their importance throughout a lawyer’s life. But just as the lawyer had progressed over the years, so too should legal case briefs. As the lawyer’s products of his studies, legal case briefs are essentially the past understanding of the lawyer during his formative years in law school—and understanding can change over time. In fact, new insights and ideas can be formed from reading the same case, a basic practice that should always be remembered by graduating law students.
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