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How to Write a Case Brief: Template and Explanations

Writing case briefs is a fundamental activity in the legal profession. Basically, specific skills help professionals in the field to learn much about cases and the decisions of courts of law. By definition, a case brief is a legal tool that allows a law professional, whether practicing or still in school, to encapsulate and analyze an issue. As such, professionals should take note of technical elements that aid in this endeavor. In turn, these aspects include essential features, including Facts, Issues, Holding, and Rationale, and non-essential elements, such as Dicta, Dissent, Parties’ Arguments, and Comments. However, when writing a brief, a professional should consider a structure that captures seven elements: Title and Citation, Facts, Issues, Decisions, Reasoning, Separate Opinions, and Analysis.

Definition of a Case Brief

Practicing law is among the most prestigious professions in the world. However, to emerge as a notable legal mind, a student or practitioner of law must learn specific fundamentals of law, and one way of doing this is by utilizing case briefs. By definition, a case brief is a study aid in the legal profession that enables lawyers/advocates or students of law to encapsulate and analyze an issue. It is what comes after reading a case, rereading it, analyzing it, and reconstructing it. In essence, a case brief is a tool for self-instruction and referencing and is essential in the preparation of a great legal mind. Moreover, a case brief to law professionals highlights the critical points in a court decision. In turn, such skills enhance understanding of some basic principles of law and their application to a particular set of facts.

How to write a case brief

Types of Case Briefs

Appellate Brief

In practicing their professions, lawyers and advocates submit a written legal argument to an appellate court – an appellate brief. Basically, the purpose of this brief is to persuade the higher court to uphold or reverse the decision of the lower court. As such, this type of brief intends to present to the appellate court the central issues in the case from a one-sided perspective. In turn, appellate briefs from both sides are valuable in assessing legal issues that impact an issue. However, these types of submissions are rarely published, and, in the United States, only the Supreme Court can provide access to these briefs in printed form.

Student Brief

Students of law learn the fundamentals that guide their practice through case briefs, even before graduating with a law degree and gaining the right and power to practice law. For example, these papers are known as student briefs and reflect a summary and analysis of the problem that a law professor presents to students for classroom discussion. As a set of notes presented systematically, a student case brief helps law students to sort out the parties, identify the issues, ascertain the decision, and analyze the reasoning behind the court decision. Although student brief and the appellate brief bear the same items of information, they differ in the form in which that information appears.

Conducting Case Briefs

To benefit from case briefs, law professionals must learn how to conduct them, and the first step is to learn how to write them. Basically, standard practice dictates that a professional should start the brief with the case citation. Here, professionals list the name of both parties in the form of “X versus Y.” For example, “Roe versus Wade” is a case that pitted Jane Roe against the State of Texas, which has a statute associated with Henry Wade by considering a ban on abortion. Other components of a case brief are opening lines that identify the publisher, or the source, the court that made the decision, and the year when final opinion on the paper was published.

Six Items to Consider

There are several items that a law professional should take into consideration when writing a case brief.

1. They should set out a statement of facts, which means researching and distinguishing what events influenced the court decision.

2. They should capture the case’s procedure history by answering the key questions, such as the court that issued the final opinion and how the situation got there.

3. They should take note of the key question – which must be legal – the court relied upon to make the decision. Here, professionals should not only highlight the question but also articulate the jest in the matter.

4. They should note the rule – the law or set of laws that the court uses to decide the particular issue.

5. They should state the rule’s application, which also means noting the reasoning behind the court’s final decision.

6. They should make concluding remarks that state the court affirmed or reversed the case and ruled in favor of the appellant, appellee, or defendant.

Case Brief Template

A comprehensive brief follows the following structure, which captures seven elements:

  1. Title and Citation
  2. Facts of the Case
  3. Issues
  4. Decisions/Holdings
  5. Reasoning/Rationale
  6. Separate Opinions
  7. Analysis

Explanation of Seven Elements

Title and Citation

The reason for including a title in a case brief is that it helps to note the parties – who is against who. Basically, the name that appears first is for the party that initiated legal action in that particular court case. However, since the party that loses tends to appeal to a higher court, it can be confusing to identify who initiated the course case. In turn, the citation is the means that help one to locate the reporter of the case in the appropriate case reporter.

Facts of the Case

A case brief is never complete without a summary of pertinent facts and legal points raised in the paper. In capturing facts, individuals preparing a case brief intend to show the nature of the litigation, which party sued, the occurrences influenced the problem, and the rulings made by the lower court/s. Also, a summary of these facts precedes the court’s published opinion. Notably, to capture the statement of facts is the best way, law professionals provide them in a dissenting or concurring opinion. In turn, judges are selective about facts that they emphasize, which ends up influencing how they vote and, as a result, which rule of law they apply.

A good case brief follows a structure with several features. Firstly, there is an introduction that describes the nature of the problem. Basically, professionals provide a statement of the relevant law in quotation marks followed by a summary of the complaint (in case of a civil case) or the indictment (in case of a criminal case). Then, there is a summary of relevant evidence and arguments that identify the issue as involving illegal conduct. Finally, individuals include a summary of actions taken by lower courts (such as conviction of the defendant), conviction upheld by an appellate court, or granting of certiorari by the Supreme Court.

Issues

In preparing a case brief, a practitioner or student states issues or questions of law that facts peculiar to the issue raise explicitly. Basically, professionals should focus on the judge(s) who misstate questions raised by the case’s nature, opinion of the lower court, or parties on appeal. In constitutional cases, a practitioner or student of the law should note multiple issues that interest litigants, lawyers, court officials, and citizens. Also, an appellate court’s decision may challenge the meaning of a provision of a statute, the Constitution, or a judicial doctrine. In turn, a practitioner or student captures that provision when restating the issue and ensure they do so with quotation marks or by underlining. Also, this exercise helps individuals later when they try to reconcile conflicting cases.

A law professional phrase issues based on questions that one can answer with a precise “yes” or “no.” For example, in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case, the issue was the applicability of a provision of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution to the practice by the school board of excluding Black pupils from certain public schools based on race. The Amendment reads: “no state shall… deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In turn, a law professional preparing a brief would, as a matter of priority, identify the key phrases from the Amendment and decide which of them were central to the problem.

Assuming that the school board was acting as the State and that Miss Brown lived “within its jurisdiction,” the key issue would be Does excluding students from a public school based on race amount to a denial of ‘equal protection of the laws’? Of course, the implications of this case were significant and exceeded the interests of the parties involved. For once, the case revealed the tradition of the US Supreme Court of validating prior decisions that stated restricting Black Americans to “separate but equal” facilities did not deny them “equal protection of the laws.” Therefore, in making a case brief, law professionals must note such implications in their statement of issues at the conclusion of the brief, where they make personal observations and comments.

Decisions/Holdings

In a case brief, the decision is the answer that the court provides to a question before it courtesy of parties involved or its [the court] reading of the case. In stating this decision, law professionals take notes of narrow procedural holdings, such as “case reversed and remanded.” Basically, they should also notice broader substantive holdings based on the interpretation of the statute, Constitution, or judicial doctrines. Where central issues are precise, the decision is a simple “yes” or “no” or short statements that a practitioner or student of the law derives from the court’s language.

Reasoning/Rationale

In a case brief, the reasoning is the chain of argument that acts as the basis of the judges’ decision, both in the concurring and dissenting opinions. For instance, judges do not decide without giving a reasoned argument that highlights facts and rules relevant to the problem. Basically, they do it by outlining events and issues point by point in numbered sentences or paragraphs. In turn, this chain of argument acts as the rationale for the final decision, which can either agree with the concurring, also majority’s, opinion, or dissent from that opinion.

Separate Opinions

When writing a case brief, a law professional should subject both concurring and dissenting opinions to the same depth of analysis to reveal areas of agreement or disagreement with the majority opinion. Here, they should state how each judge voted and how they lined up. By familiarizing themselves with how judges of a particular court usually line up on specific issues, law professionals can anticipate how they [judges] are likely to vote in future cases involving similar items.

Analysis

The most significant activity in preparing a case brief involves evaluating the significance of the issue, its relationship to other cases, and place in history. For example, it involves determining what the case tells about the court, its official, and its decision-making processes. Also, such aspects consist of a determination of how the case affects litigants, government, or society. In short, analysis entails determining the impact of the case, and law professionals must probe the judges’ implicit assumptions and values, the “rightness” of the decision in question, and the logic of the reasoning.

Technical Requirements for Writing a Good Case Brief

When writing a case brief, there are certain elements that a law professional should consider. These include:

  • The case title and names of the parties involved, what transpired factually and procedurally, and the decision.
  • Issues – The cause of disputes between parties.
  • Holding – The rule of law that judges have applied in their decision.
  • Rationale – Reasons for the decision.
  • Dicta – Commentary on the decision that did not influence the final decision.
  • Dissent – The opinion that is contrary to the concurring or majority’s opinion.
  • Party’s Arguments – Opposing argument from each party about the ultimate issue.
  • Comments – A personal commentary about the case.
  • Facts of the Case – Details about what transpired to cause a dispute between the parties.
  • Procedural History – Events within the legal system that led to the present issue.
  • Judgment – The court’s decision on the matter before it.

These elements, being the most critical ones – those that help a law professional to recall effectively crucial details about a case, are Statement of Facts, Issues, Holding, and Rationale. As such, the decision to include the other additional elements in a case brief depends on the situation. For instance, when writing a brief on a case with a long and relevant section, expounding a formal pronouncement from the court necessitates the inclusion of Dicta. Basically, professionals need to consider when deciding which technical elements to include in a brief is that the brief is intended for personal use and not the court’s use. As such, the decision about which items to include should rely on a determination of which elements help to organize and use the brief.

Personal Comments

Notably, law professionals writing a case brief can include personal comments if they have an idea about the problem that does not fit elsewhere. In essence, this element enables a practitioner or student of the law to label cases as specific kinds, such as a case of vicarious liability, or make notes about what stands out as peculiar or puzzling about the case. Also, this element helps law professionals to release their thoughts about the case, while they can proceed to tackle another case.

Procedural History

There is a notion in the legal profession that Procedural History is usually minimal and mostly irrelevant to the utmost importance of a case, but this statement is not true. Basically, Procedure History is significant in cases of civil procedure. Here, a law professional must describe the Judgment of the case and distinguish it from the Holding. In turn, the Judgment is the court’s factual determination, which favors one party. When writing about the Judgment in a case brief, a professional must use the term “affirmed,” “reversed,” or “remanded.”

Annotations or Highlights

Another essential technical element that aids in writing a case brief is annotations or highlights, which help a professional to recall forgotten thoughts and random ideas, and also serve as a medium for personal comments. Besides making it easier to review an original case, annotations made during the first review of a case help a professional to write a brief a lot easier. With adequate highlights, individuals can identify the most important details about the issue they are summarizing. No matter how long it takes to read a case, the dense material of all cases makes it difficult for law professionals to recall all their thoughts. Therefore, making annotations or highlights in the margin helps to direct individuals to a pertinent section of the case and also refreshes thoughts that they have during the reading of the section.

In essence, annotations and highlights enable a law professional to note the four significant elements in a case brief – Facts, Issues, Holding, and Rationale. Basically, Facts remind professionals about the issue, which, like a story, they would not recall without noting down essential details. In turn, one can argue that these four elements constitute the “plot” of a case and help individuals to understand dynamics at play in the legal dispute, pitting parties involved. As mentioned earlier, these elements help to unravel the case as a piece of a puzzle. When a professional combines the piece with other pieces, people get a full picture of the common law and its application in the courts.

Organizing a Short Brief

Another technical detail that a law professional should take note of when writing a case brief is that briefs should be short to be effective in helping one to recall information on a case. Overly long or cumbersome briefs do not help in this regard since it is hardly possible for a professional to skim them comfortably during a review of notes or when the situation demands one to recall critical details, such as a question from a professor. Nonetheless, a brief that is too short is equally unhelpful to a professional because it lacks sufficient information to refresh memory about a case. Therefore, the secret in writing a case brief for a practitioner or student of the law is to limit a brief to one page in length. Basically, this method ensures that professionals take notes of every word, which must count. In short, restricting a case brief to a one-page text helps a professional to organize and reference the most critical details of a case, particularly the four elements – Facts, Issues, Holding, and Rationale.

Summing Up on How to Write a Good Case Brief

Essentially, the purpose of a brief is to remind a law professional of essential details that make the recorded issue a significant legal matter. In a class of law, a case brief acts as a point of reference for a student responding to a question from professors about a particular case. As such, a brief is like a puzzle piece, and the various technical elements give the piece a unique shape and color combination. Basically, combining the piece with other pieces gives a practitioner or student of the law a fuller picture of the common law. In short, constructing a brief using the above elements enables professionals to save time as they do not need to go back to the case to identify critical details.

Tips

In summary, in order to learn how to write a case brief, a law professional should master the following tips:

  • Read a case carefully, at least twice.
  • Find the best brief format.
  • Create an outline.
  • Ensure to capture basic elements: an introduction that articulates the issue of dispute between the parties and the procedural records of the case; a Table of Authorities (TOA) segment that describes all sources of legal authority used in the brief; a statement of facts that establishes the critical factual elements that should guide a court in making its decision; an argument section that sets forth the arguments of law from the perspective of the law professional; and a conclusion that summarizes the key points of the brief.
  • Elaborate on every part of the brief.
  • Use standard language.
  • Proofread and edit as necessary.
  • Use annotations and highlighters – A practitioner or student of the law should read a case with a pencil or a highlighter and underline or highlight everything that seems vital while making notes on the page’s side about the essential elements.
  • Capture essential technical requirements, including Citation, Facts, Issues, Holding, and Rationale.
  • Include additional non-essential elements, if necessary, such as Dicta, Dissent, Parties’ Arguments, and Comments.