How to Brief a Case

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HOW TO BRIEF A CASE

Briefing cases is a challenging experience. It requires one to read case law very carefully, often more than once. It also requires the reader to analyze the case, making judgment calls in choosing the portions that are relevant for the reader’s needs. Finally, it requires the reader to turn those judgment calls into a coherent, summary form that expresses the essence of the judge’s opinion. This is exactly why case briefing is so important.

The case brief should consist of five (5) elements: Facts, Procedural History, Issue, Holding, and Reasoning. The following discussion explains how each of these five (5) parts of the brief should be drafted.

THE FACTS:

A good case brief starts with a Facts section, but in order to be “brief,” a Facts section should only include the key facts. As a rule of thumb, key facts are those that put the case in a context and shape the case’s outcome. How do you know which facts? Read the case carefully, a couple of times. As you examine the facts from a case, ask yourself if the court could have reached its decision without that fact. If not, you have found a key fact that should be in your brief.

THE PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

The Procedural History is a brief and succinct statement that summarizes how the case came to be in the court. The Procedural History states the initial theory under which suit was sought, the name of the court in which the action began, any earlier court’s ruling on the issue and the actions taken by the losing party in response to the court’s ruling. The statement should also include the same information with respect to the higher court on which the appeal is based.

THE ISSUE:

The Issue is the brain center of the case brief and the hardest part of a brief to grasp. A good issue asks a legal question, not an “outcome” question. An issue is what the court has to grapple with in the appeal, not about who wins or loses. A good issue also incorporates some of the...
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