How to Brief a Case: Tutorial

By far the MOST DIFFICULT portion of the case "brief" is a the precise formulation of specific issues which are addressed by appellate court opinions. This is further complicated by the additional fact that there are actually three (3) different CATEGORIES of issues which potentially may arise in any given appellate decision, and any one of these categories may also contain multiple individual issues.

Individual issues may be categorized according to whether they address:


These are usually quite easy to recognize. They typically involve simple disputes between the parties as to conflicting versions of legally relevant facts. For example, "whether the traffic signal was red when the Defendant proceeded through the intersection at the time of the accident" is fairly typical of a disputed "fact issue." Ordinarily, fact issues are resolved by the trier of fact at the trial stage of the proceeding. Therefore, they are seldom appropriate in case "briefs" involving appellate court decisions.


Procedural issues are those which relate solely to to procedural disposition of the case. Although procedural issues are potentially important in every case, they should only be included in the "issue(s)" portion of the case "brief" if the actual disposition of the case on appeal by the appellate court was based solely upon such procedural issue(s) instead of some substantive (legal) issue(s). Procedural issues should NOT be confused with the "procedural history" portion of the case "brief." Although both aspects of the "brief" may involve similar information, they are worded quite differently. For example, the "procedural history" portion of the "brief" might indicate that the "trial court dismissed the Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a cause of action in Battery," whereas the "procedural issue" addressed by the appellate court in that same "brief" might be "whether the Plaintiff's complaint for a Battery must specifically allege each individual element of the prima facie cause of action for Battery? This latter "procedural issue," although obviously related to substantive (legal) issues involving Battery, nevertheless differs in that a substantive (legal) issue would ALSO contain specific elements that are unique to the cause of action for Battery. For example, a related substantive issue might ask "whether INTENT is necessary for a prima facie cause of action for Battery," or "whether contact with the person of another is a necessary element of a cause of action for Battery?" Notice that in the related procedural issue (discussed supra) the actual substantive components of the individual elements for a cause of action in Battery (i.e., the substantive tort law requirements for a Battery) are simply NOT RELEVANT at all. Instead, what IS relevant to the procedural issue is that EACH requisite element of the tort of Battery (whetever they may be) MUST be contained within the Plaintiff's complaint for Battery. The procedural issue is USUALLY NOT included in the case "brief" in most first-year law courses, except for Civil Procedure. In that course, typically, it is the procedural issue that is most often significant in the court's analysis and disposition of the case on appeal, whereas the substantive (legal) issue(s) are often much less significant. An excellent example of a first-year Torts case which involves a "procedural" rather than a "substantive" issue may be seen in the Ghassemieh v. Schafer case.


Substantive (legal) issues are those which relate specifically to the actual legal rules which may be derived from the court's analysis in an appellate opinion. These are the so-called legal "rules" which ultimately become known as the "black letter law" of the case. In MOST first-year law courses (except Civil Procedure) the substantive (legal) issue is the one which will most often be included within the case "brief."

Issue(s) Presented by the Case

Edward C. Martin

To view descriptions of each element of a case "brief,"  CLICK on the appropriate link below.


Type of Action


Procedural History

Contentions of Parties