How to Brief a Case: Tutorial
case "brief" is an essential tool which is utilized in the traditional case
method of law study. Its primary purpose extends far beyond providing a simple
"shorthand" way of discussing appellate court decisions. Instead, the case "brief"
is designed to assist the law student in understanding the actual
legal analysis employed by the courts in writing their opinions.
Each individual component of the case "brief" is intended to focus
the student's attention on some particular aspect of the court's legal analysis.
Collectively, all of these components combine to produce a well-prepared case
"brief" which serves as a detailed "roadmap" of the legal analysis utilized
by the court in resolving the outcome of each individual judicial decision.
Although the "brief" may certainly be useful in helping the
law student to learn some aspect of a particular "rule" of substantive (or
procedural) law, the primary significance of a case "brief" is to enable the
student to more thoroughly understand the analytical "process" by which that
very "rule" was derived. It is this latter purpose which is MOST important
and which will provide the most long-lasting benefit to the law student.
In preparing a case "brief" many law students make the mistake of viewing the "brief" itself as some final work product to be studied, memorized and then recited verbatim on an exam. While a "brief" may certainly be helpful in studying for the final exam, its true benefit lies in training the student's thought processes as they attempt to understand how to perform "legal analysis" by unravelling and dissecting actual judicial opinions. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for the law student to understand that each case "brief" is intended to reflect the ACTUAL LEGAL ANALYSIS that was utilized by each respective court in deciding the outcome (on appeal) of each individual case. To be effective in accomplishing this goal, the "brief" must reflect (as accurately as possible) precisely what each court says and does, regardless of whether the student agrees or disagrees with such analysis or result. It is, after all, a "brief" of THE COURT'S analysis (and not the student's analysis) that is intended to be contained within the "brief" itself. Of course, once the "brief" has been properly prepared, it can then also serve as a legitimate basis for criticizing the court's analysis and conclusions.
Edward C. Martin