How to Brief a Case in Law School

Woo! So I'm done with my first two weeks of law school now (honestly so crazy how the time has flown by so fast!!)

Basically what I've learned so far is that law school will involve a lot of late nights, little sleep, and meals on the go because who has time for eating?? (just kidding - take care of yourself friends - even meals on the go can be healthy so make sure you prioritize)

In all of the madness so far I have had a LOT of practice briefing cases already. I have learned how to tailor my briefs to each class and each professor and while they aren't perfect and probably never will be, they are getting better!

So here is an overview on how to brief and case and things to pay attention to so you can predict what questions your professors will be asking and include that info in your briefs.

Part 1 - Briefing

So, after reading lots of blogs and getting info from professors and 2Ls at my school I have determined 8 sections I put in *almost* every brief. I'll go over them below and show you one of the cases I have briefed already in school.

1.      Cause of action - this is the first question all of my professors ask about every case. It's simply what brought them to court. As an example: in torts so far we have gone over trespass, battery, assaults, false imprisonment, and intentional emotional distress.

2.      Procedural History - the history of the case through the courts (Federal: district, circuit, supreme State: trial, appeal, Supreme - honestly state court systems can vary a lot so that's just a general structure)

      Sometimes we spend a long time talking about procedural history if something interesting is going on
i.e. we had an appeal in state court to the Court of Special Appeals, but the regular Court of Appeals thought they were taking too long to handle the case so they took it from them and made the decision first. Turns out there can be a lot of drama between the lower and higher courts sometimes

3.      Facts - pretty self-explanatory here - but I do want to say to remember it’s the relevant facts. Sometimes I think students get nervous about cold calling so they just blab all the facts - which is fine, no one is going to think you're wrong for saying that - it just means the professor has to go through an narrow do on what they are trying to talk about after. Plus you are crowding your paper and brain up with info that just doesn't matter that much.

Basically, think about only the facts that mattered for the arguments, hold, rule, and court's reasoning.

4.      Issue - The legal issue should be written as a question and an expansion of the cause of action. You will answer this question with the holding and connect the two through the rule so just be thinking about how they are all related when writing your issue.

Example from a case I have done in Torts (eggshell skull rule, which you will DEFINITELY learn) :
Cause of action: assault and battery (what brought them to court)
Issue: Is the defendant liable for damages of plaintiff if the consequences of an intentional action were reasonably unforeseen?
Hold & Rule: The defendant is liable for damages. People are liable for unforeseeable and uncommon reactions to intentional actions. (italics is the eggshell skull rule)

5.      Arguments - this is a section that is sometimes there and sometimes not. Sometimes the arguments are incorporated into the court's reasoning and sometimes the case is so short they don’t really discuss the arguments at all. If it's there though, even just one side I always try to right it down, because predicting arguments on all sides is a huge part of exams and lawyering (or so I'm told by my professors)

6.      Hold & Rule - okay so this was the hardest concept for me to grasp (and I'm still working on it). Like I said in the issue section: the hold is the answer to the question posed in the issue and the rule is how you get from issue question to hold answer.

The hold is more than the "judgement affirmed" type statement at the end of most cases. If you look in the paragraph above that it will give you more information like "plaintiff receives damages" that gives you a more direct answer to your question.

The rule is something that is written is your own words. I struggled with the abstractness of this at first. I thought there should have been a book out there with clearly written and worded rules and we were just supposed to decide which one applied here. Some common rule i.e. Eggshell skull has been used so often that it is almost word for word the same for every person because it has been argued by lawyers and affirmed by courts for so long over so many cases. Not every rule is like that though and that's okay - you aren't crazy.

7.      Reasoning - this is how the court came to the decision stated in the holding. This part is really important because it teaches you how courts evaluate arguments by parties and interpret and apply the law. My contract professor pays special attention to reasoning so my reasoning sections for that class are usually longer.

8.      Personal Analysis - ask yourself why this case is important and what it contributes to your knowledge in the section of the class and the class as a whole.

This is my 8 piece brief. I write mine leaving a couple lines after each section so I can add in information we talked about in class. Briefing is different for everyone and there is no one right answer. It is a tool you use to learn the law and learn how to "think like a lawyer" (and try not to embarrass yourself in class - but if you do don't worry it happens to EVERYONE - you'll get it wrong and then you'll survive)

Check out Part 2 next to see how I have constructed each brief a little different for each class & professor.

Also, peep the brief I was talking about below. I also posted one from my contracts class that shows how I mark my professors and classmates comments during discussion. I like to write them and type them up later. Writing in a separate color helps me see what I was missing and create a better brief the next time.

Leave a comment on how you like to brief your cases and let me know how your year is going to far?
Have more questions? Let me know those too!
Applying for law school or thinking about the LSAT? Check out my LSAT advice here on how to self study.