You’re doing plenty of reading and studying in law school as it is, so why would you want to add more to your workload by writing case briefs?
This is a great question, and really, you don’t need to write out a case brief for each and every case you read throughout your three years of law school; some professors may require case briefs, but that’s often only in the first few weeks of your first year if at all.
That said, it is a good idea to formally brief the first few cases you read in each class during your first year so you can get a feel for what you should be looking for in a case.
Formal case briefing is recommended for beginning law students for five reasons:
- Case briefing can help acquaint you with law school reading. Reading and absorbing information in cases is very different from other kinds of academic reading you’ve done up to this point; knowing what is important to pay attention to is half the battle, and case briefing can help you pinpoint the important parts of a case.
- Case briefing will help you pick out the so-called “black letter law.” These are principles of law that entire opinions are based on and, in many cases, that you will eventually need to know for the bar exam.
- Case briefing will better prepare you for class discussions as you’ll have important case information in a clear format on one or two pages instead of spread over, in some cases, 20 pages or more. Not only will you have the critical information at your fingertips, you’ll also have reviewed it at least twice, making you more comfortable to recite it back to the professor if called on.
- Case briefing can help you put cases in context with other material in the course. Seeing things written out in front of you can elucidate links with other cases you’ve read, particularly since cases in a given course generally build upon one another.
- Case briefing can make course outlining much easier. Especially now in the age of computers, you may find that you can simply copy and paste chunks of your case briefs augmented by class notes into your course outlines.
Once you’re comfortable with the case briefing process, you can also brief cases in the margins of your textbooks, e.g., by highlighting important pieces of information and marking important facts with a circled “F,” the holding with a circled “H,” etc., without rewriting or typing everything—unless, of course, doing so helps your learning process, in which case, you should stick with what works.