Writing a case brief can be rather easy once you’ve got the format down. Read through a case once before you begin briefing, and then focus on the important parts of the case, which will become the elements of the case brief:
- Facts: Pinpoint the determinative facts of a case, i.e., those that make a difference in the outcome. Your goal here is to be able to tell the story of the case without missing any pertinent information but also not including too many extraneous facts either; it takes some practice to pick out the determinative facts, so don’t get discouraged if you miss the mark the first few times. Above all, make sure you have clearly marked the parties’ names and positions in the case (Plaintiff/Defendant or Appellee/Appellant).
- Procedural History: Record what has happened procedurally in the case up until this point. The dates of case filings, motions of summary judgment, court rulings, trials, and verdicts or judgments should be noted, but usually this isn’t an extremely important part of a case brief unless the court decision is heavily based in procedural rules—or unless you note that your professor loves to focus on procedural history.
- Issue Presented: Formulate the main issue or issues in the case in the form of questions, preferably with a yes or no answer, which will help you more clearly state the holding in the next section of the case brief.
- Holding: The holding should directly respond to the question in the Issue Presented, begin with “yes” or “no,” and elaborate with “because…” from there. If the opinion says “We hold…” that’s the holding; some holdings aren’t so easy to pinpoint, though, so look for the lines in the opinion that answer your Issue Presented question.
- Rule of Law: In some cases this will be clearer than others, but basically you want to identify the principle of law on which the judge or justice is basing the resolution of the case. This is what you’ll often hear called “black letter law.”
- Reasoning: This is the most important part of your brief as it describes why the court ruled the way it did; some law professors dwell on facts more than others, some more on procedural history, but all spend the most time on the court’s reasoning as it combines all parts of the case rolled in one, describing the application of the rule of law to the facts of the case, often citing other court’s opinions and reasoning or public policy considerations in order to answer the issue presented. This part of your brief traces the court’s reasoning step by step, so be sure that you record it without gaps in logic as well.
- Concurring/Dissenting Opinion: You don’t need to spend too much time on this part other than the pinpoint the concurring or dissenting judge’s main point of contention with the majority opinion and rationale. Concurring and dissenting opinions hold lots of law professor Socratic Method fodder, and you can be ready by including this part in your case brief.
What You Need
- Case book
- Paper and pen or computer
- Attention to detail