There are many ways to brief a case. This article breaks down a few example templates that we have collected to give you some ideas.
After a law student has briefed a few cases:
I know, I know. You came here looking for a template and I am saying "Make your own" which isn't super helpful.
But how you learn and what your professors focus on is unique, and so how you brief a case can be unique, too. But looking at templates is still helpful because it will give law students some examples to pick from in order to craft their own. A very special franken-brief.
I recommend trying them (and any others that you find online or from classmates/friends) out and picking the parts from each that help you, and that are most relevant to the class and to the case.
This Template has 12 Parts (9 standard and 3 optional)
Name of Case
Start by writing the name of the case at the top of your case brief, like "Smith v. Jones." I know it sounds simple, but it helps.
Identify who the plaintiff and defendant are. If you don't want to write the names over and over consider abbreviating them, like with a "P" and "D."
Identify where the case is being heard (state or federal court) and at which stage in the judicial process the case is in when the issue arises.
Identify the legal issue that the case is addressing.
BrieflySummarize the relevant facts of the case. Focus on legally significant facts. Focusing your brief will cut down on the time it takes you to brief.
Identify the rule of law that the court applied. This may be straightforwardThis may be straightforward, or the court may have fashioned a new rule.
Describe the court’s reasoning. Explain how the court applied the rule to the facts.
This is the court's legal conclusion. What did the court decide?
This is the court's ultimate disposition of the case. Did the court grant or deny a motion? Affirm or reverse a lower court?
If the court provides any public policy reasons for its adoption of a new rule or its application of an old rule to a novel situation, briefly note those reasons.
Sometimes, the court provides an extended discussion of an issue that is not necessary to reach the holding. This is known as "dicta." These are occasionally discussed in class and sometimes become important in future lessons.
If the casebook includes a dissenting opinion, jot down one or two sentences about the dissent’s point of view. It can be just as important as a majority opinion.
This one is a little shorter. It might be a good choice if you are looking to brief cases a little more quickly.
This Template has 7 Parts
Title and Citation
The title indicates the parties involved in the case, with the first name being the party that initiated legal action, like "Brown v. Board of Education". Citations are similar but slightly different. they act as a reference to locate the case in the appropriate case book and/or reporter, making it easier to track and study (but not exactly easy to read), like "347 U.S. 483, 98 L. Ed. 2d 873, 74 S. Ct. 686, 1954 U.S. LEXIS 2094, SCDB 1953-069"
Facts of the Case
A detailed summary of the essential facts and legal points raised in the case. It covers the nature of the litigation, parties involved, relevant occurrences, and lower court rulings. The summary helps to establish context and provides a foundation for understanding the court's published opinion.
The legal issues or questions raised by the case, often stated as a question. In general, issues should be phrased in a way that allows for clear "yes" or "no" answers, focusing on the case's nature, lower court opinions, or parties on appeal. Identifying these issues is crucial for understanding the legal implications of the case. It can help to identify the issue before you even start the reading in order to guide you. Using something like LSD+ Case Briefs, can help.
The court's response to the legal questions presented, which can range from simple "yes" or "no" answers to broader and more complex interpretations of statutes, the Constitution, or judicial doctrines. Decisions may include narrow procedural holdings, such as "case reversed and remanded," or broader substantive holdings based on legal interpretations.
The thought process and chain of arguments behind the judges' decisions, both in concurring and dissenting opinions. This reasoning is critical for understanding the legal principles applied and the rationale for the final decision. It can reveal how the court considered the facts and rules relevant to the problem. Typically, Professors will assign specific page ranges of case books that cover specific opinions. These are usually the ones that you should focus on.
When in the assigned reading, both concurring and dissenting opinions should be analyzed in-depth to identify areas of agreement or disagreement with the majority opinion. This analysis includes stating how each judge voted and their alignment on the issue. Familiarity with judges' typical stances can help anticipate their likely votes in future cases involving similar issues.
The evaluation of the case's significance, its relationship to other cases, and its place in history. It is particularly helpful to map each case to other relevant cases that you have learned throughout the course. This will help to structure your outline which is a typical study tool for exams.
The analysis section involves determining the case's impact on the court, its officials, and decision-making processes, as well as its effects on litigants, government, and society. Analyzing the case also entails examining the judges' implicit assumptions and values, the appropriateness of the decision, and the logic of the reasoning.
Hopefully, with a few reps in, you can create a system that works for you to cut down on the time it takes to read.
Case briefs (like ours) or from classmates, can help as well.
I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.
Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.