Briefing Cases in Law School

By Francine Fluetsch on May 10, 2017
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If you are about to start law school, you are probably buzzing with both the excitement and anxiety of it all. What should you know about before you even enter your first lecture? You sure don’t want to pull an Elle Woods and go to class without having done the reading on the first day.

A term that you will start to hear thrown around a lot is case briefing, and whether you end up choosing to use them or not (there is some resistance against them), it is important to know what they are and how they can help you out.

So what exactly is a case brief?

Well, it’s basically a specific way to take notes on a case that you are assigned. This can come in handy for class discussions or if the professor randomly decides to call on you, because you will have outlined all the important points of the case for quick reference.

They are a great way to self-study as well since you will have a condensed version of the many cases you will be assigned to analyze. Case briefs are mainly for your own benefit and are a good habit to get into, especially when you are first starting out. Since it is mainly to benefit you (unless your professor requires you to turn it in) you can include the information that you find relevant and important to remember about a particular case.

If, for example, you have a case that has a lot of baggage that makes it hard to get through, use a highlighter or a pen in the margins to help dissect the case, and then make notes in your case brief as to what you found out, and what you’d like to remember when you revisit the case.

What goes into a case brief?

While you will have a lot of choices when it comes to what you’d like to include, it will be beneficial to take note of the aspects your various professors recommend you to include and then sort of pick and choose the best way that works for you. While everyone does case briefings slightly differently, this excerpt on LexisNexis by Michael Makdisi and John Makdisi suggests that there are four crucial things that do indeed need to be in your case briefing:

“(a) Facts (name of the case and its parties, what happened factually and procedurally, and the judgment)

(b) Issues (what is in dispute)

(c) Holding (the applied rule of law)

(d) Rationale (reasons for the holding)”

It will be up to you to expand on these as will best serve you, but if you have at least these four things, you should be prepared for class discussion.

If this more traditional case briefing isn’t your style, you can always try book briefing.

What’s book briefing?

This article on Law School Toolbox, by Lee Burgess, states that book briefing “involves simply highlighting different parts of the case in different colors, right there in your textbook (hence the name). If it helps, you can also draw a little picture at the top, to remind you of the facts.”

Don’t think that this is just you highlighting the page to the max and being done with it. You still want the basics that the traditional brief requires, you are just highlighting the information instead of typing it out.

To make this effective and actually helpful to you, you want to choose a color scheme and stick to it with all of your cases. If you start off by highlighting important facts to the case in blue and then switch, it will be really confusing when you look back at the case. If you are more of a visual learner and you can use this to your advantage, you should go for it!

So why are some people against briefing?

While the professors are going to expect you to be briefing cases, you are going to be assigned a lot of them per week, far more than you’ll be able to meticulously brief in the given amount of time. Some students and even a few professors argue that while briefs are helpful, they are also very time-consuming and should only really be used when one is first starting out in law school.

When deciding where you stand in this debate, it is important to consider who you are as a student and how you learn in the best way possible. At the end of the day, what matters is how you perform on your exams, and whether or not your case briefings will help you on those will depend on how you learn.

Don’t let laziness be the cause of you not creating briefs, but if you truly find that after pumping them out time and time again that they just aren’t doing it for you, consider talking to your professor about it or some L2 students to see what side they weigh in on.

The consensus

Case briefings are going to play some sort of role in your law school career, so it is important to know how to best utilize them to your advantage and to help you excel in your studies.

Best of luck!

Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.

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Hi! I'm Francine and I'm a fourth year Creative Writing major at UC Santa Cruz. I am one of the Campus life columnists on Uloop's National Team and also the campus editor for UCSC. I enjoy reading, writing, and taking selfies with my cat.

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