A Complete Guide on How to Write Case Brief
For students in law school, learning how to write a good case brief is an important step in their academic career. These documents must be written according to specific formats and standards set by the court. The objective of writing a case brief is to present your arguments effectively.
Therefore, as a student in law school, you should be aware of all the specifics of this legal document so that it can serve its purpose well. This guide will explore all the case briefs elements and give you important tips on briefing a case.
What is a Case Brief
A case brief summarises any legal argument. It is also referred to as a ‘legal brief’ as it is written with the purpose of making a party’s legal arguments in any court case more comprehensible. The idea is to take all the arguments, distill them, and present them in a manner easily understood
Although the legal brief is a document that is for one’s personal reference, it may have to be presented in appellate courts. This allows each side to briefly state their arguments and present their case briefs which lists all the statistics, precedents, and policy arguments. Ultimately, all the parts of a case brief are directed towards helping the judge make an informed and fair decision.
Usually, it is the petitioner who has to file the brief first. Then, the respondent is given a certain period of time to reply with a brief of their own. They are also used as public records that can be accessed by anyone who needs information about a specific case. If you are a student of law, then learning the process of briefing a case is one of the basics of presenting and arguing a case in a court of law.
Students in law school are expected to familiarize themselves with briefing a case. They need to learn the brief format for every case. The case briefs learning process intimates them with arranging facts of a case in the right order to enhance accurate court’s decision. Learning the procedural history is a good way to develop the right brief format for a case.
How to Write a Case Brief
Each case has unique points for argument and has specific details. However, the elements of a case brief remain the same. You should make sure that your brief includes all these elements and is less than 600 words in length before you write the concurrences and dissents.
Here are the main headings that you should cover in your case briefs:
Title and Citation
The title contains the names of both the opposing sides of the case. The name of the plaintiff who initiated legal action must appear first. This is followed by the name of the defendant. The citation of the case brief provides all the contact details of the case reporter.
A case report is a name given to the publication that includes similar legal cases in a given jurisdiction and provides a source for reference to provide the judgment, if needed.
When you write a case brief, you must include important facts of the case which include:
- Cause of action: This is a single sentence that gives you information about why a certain case was filed. You will include details of whether it was a foreclosure, breach of contract, eviction, or any other cause of conflict between the concerned parties.
- Statement of relevant law: This part tells you what laws were broken leading to the plaintiff filing the case. It is an important aspect of the facts of the case.
- Details of the opposing parties: This section allows the judge to identify the parties involved. This includes the names of the plaintiffs and the defendants as well as the relationship between them. For example tenant/ landlord, buyer/ seller etc.
- Complaints: When writing a case brief assignment, you must summarize all the points leading to the case.
- Court holdings: This provides a summary of other actions taken against the defendant in the lower course with respect to this case. This includes grant or writ, conviction, and other actions.
You do not have to provide any details pertaining to the current case. Instead, the legal issue provides statements that can be answered without any ambiguity. They are similar to ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions.
For instance, if the case involves the constitution, all the relevant points should be listed in this section.
Rule of Law
All the legal principles based on which the court provided its decision should be written in this section. The objective is to provide a personalized case brief that can identify the rule of law that pertains to this case. You need to remember that more than one legal principle influences legal opinion. Therefore, while writing this section, the sentences should be short and crisp. The rule of law is intended to answer all the questions presented in the previous section. It is almost like you are restating the questions in the form of an answer. You may also include the reasons behind certain laws while writing this section.
Holding and Reasoning
Now let us understand what is a holding in a case brief and why it must be supported with correct reasoning. This section begins by answering all the questions proposed in the legal issue portion of the case brief.
This section follows a specific structure which is known as the CREAC method. It is an abbreviation for Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Application, and Conclusion. It is also called the IRAC method which stands for Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. However, the former is more widely accepted and concise.
This is one of the most important parts of a case brief as it ensures that all legal rationales and rules relevant to the case are mentioned clearly and applied to the facts in the case.
You must include the following information in this portion:
- ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers to all the questions in the legal issue section
- The legal rationals and rules that were used to provide judgment
- How the rules are relevant to the facts of the current case
- The conclusion of the court ( If any)
- The procedures of action like overturned conviction, conviction, remand, etc.
Concurrences and Dissents
In case the judge who is preceding the case does not agree with the majority decision wholly, he or she writes a dissenting opinion that must be included in your case file. In case a second judge is in agreement with the majority decision but does not find the reasoning convincing enough, a concurring opinion is written.
These concurrences and dissents in the case file must be summarised while writing a case brief.
They are short and concise and must include all the reasons why the judges did not agree with the majority decision. If judges concur and dissent partly on a case, then you should include it in the case brief as concurrence/ dissent.
You must also explain your thoughts and reaction with respect to the prevailing opinion. For instance, you may agree with a few points but disagree with others. Make sure you use a mindset and voice that is objective when analyzing the decision of the court. Identify ways in which the decision may have a political, economic, or social impact on society and list it in this section.
Case Brief Template
Now that you know the exact case brief definition and also understand how to write a case brief, here is a template that will allow you to get started with your assignment.
A case brief must include the following sections, in the order mentioned below:
Title and Citation
Issue / Legal Issue
Holdings and Reasoning
While this is the most commonly followed template for any case brief, it is a good idea to check with your university or professors if there must be any other details to make your case brief more impactful. Some law schools make use of a brief format that may be slightly different.
The final template and brief format may vary from one university to another. It also varies according to the jurisdiction that you are writing for. All students must understand the procedural history and how to present this legal document in various formats.
This will help you immensely when you are in the actual court of law, irrespective of the jurisdiction or the format provided by the court that precedes the case.
Case Brief Example
Here is a how to brief a case sample for students. You will get a thorough idea of how the flow of your case should be and what does a case brief look like once it is complete.
Title and Citation
Near V Minnesota, 283 U.S 697 decision by Supreme Court of the United States of America
Published by J.M Near in the Saturday Press in Minneapolis. In these series of articles, a Jewish gangster was charged with being in control of gambling, racketeering, and bootlegging in the city and that the law enforcement and local government, and officers did not perform their duties as expected.
Near was brought to court for violating the gag law. The district issued an injunction and also halted all activities of the Saturday Press. He was prohibited from publishing the newspaper unless he could suitably convince the court of law that the newspaper would only publish objective material.
Rule of Law
A Minnesota Statute which is referred to as ‘gag law’ allowed for the abatement of any malicious or defamatory magazine, newspaper, or periodical for causing a public nuisance.
The ruling was appealed by Near. The constitutionality of the law was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court and stated Near’s Petition for Certiorari, holding that public nuisances can be regulated by the state given its broad political power.
In the action taken by the State of Minnesota against the publication, the Fourteenth Amendment Rights of Near was violated. This guarantees that “without due legal process, no state shall deprive any individual of life, property or liberty?”
Holding and Reasoning
Yes ( Majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Hughes)
The Minnesota statute does not redress the wrongs of any individuals attacked in Near’s articles. Instead, the court directs the suppression of the newspaper or periodical in question, effectively suppressing the publisher.
The object of law is not suppression but punishment, of all future issues pertaining to the offending issues. The statute does not remain consistent with the concepts of liberty of the press as it was guaranteed.
The broad statement of the principle providing immunity from the previous restraint does not guarantee absolute immunity. Limitations have been recognized only in certain cases such as (1) certain utterances when a country is under war (2) publication of matter that is obscene (3) publication of any material that may incite violence or overthrow law and order.
However, there are other occasions where only limiting freedom of the press is not enough. Punishment after the material has been published can also add restraints upon the individual. Every citizen should have the right to be critical of the government without being fearful of opinion.
Written by Justices Butler, Van Devanter, Sutherland, and McReynolds
The dissent argues that the majority decision provides a broad scope to the meaning of the freedom of the press. Justice Butler argued that this statute applied to those who are customarily engaged in publishing material that is defamatory, malicious, or scandalous. It does not broadly apply to all newspapers.
The Minnesota Statute was passed in concurrence with the police powers of the state and there exists a state of affairs that preserves good order and peace.
Significance of the case
This case successfully establishes the understanding that the press must be protected from any prior restraint by the government with the exception of certain situations. It was also the first case of its kind where the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment and First Amendment were applied for a newspaper.
Tips For Writing a Case Brief
In order to help you understand how to brief a case well and improve your grades, here are some additional tips that will come in handy:
- Always use an active voice to make your case more effective
- Minimize the use of pronouns and use them unambiguously.
- Keep it concise
- Make sure you use the right homophones throughout the paper.
- Do not nominalize the argument by using nouns and verbs
- It is advisable to use layman’s terms wherever you can as these are public documents that may be used for future reference.
- Proofread to ensure that the citations, facts, and grammar used in the body of the brief is free from any errors.
- Practice makes perfect. Whenever you come across any case that is of interest to you, it is a good idea to learn briefing that case just as a practice activity. This will make you more fluent.
How to Cite a Case Brief
Within the legal brief, citing any prior decisions or actions in the cases must be precise and correct. Court cases are also published in law reports that compile previous cases, procedural history, and the facts pertaining to them. Follow these steps to ensure correct citation for easy reference in the future:
- The names of both parties in the case must be written in Italics
- If citations are being written by hand, the names must be underlined.
- For a trial court case, the names must be written using the format ‘petitioner v. defendant’ for a criminal case or ‘plaintiff v. respondent’ in a civil case
- For appellate court cases, the name of the party who appealed first must be written followed by the name of the responding party. The names must be separated by a ‘v.’
- Following this, insert a comma
- Write the volume of the law reporter that published the case
- Use the abbreviated title of the law reporter that published the case.
- Insert page number where the case begins in the above-mentioned law reporter.
- Insert a left parenthesis
- Then write the name of the state where the decision was provided, followed by a single space. This step may be omitted in case the Supreme Court provided the decision. You may also omit this step if the title includes the name of the state
- Insert the year in which the case was heard and decided. The year must be presented with all four digits.
- Close the parenthesis and complete the citation with a period.
If you need further assistance with assignments or examples for legal briefs, you can get in touch with us today. We have experts with thorough knowledge on the procedural history and writing legal documents in the right format based on the state, the jurisdiction as well as specific guidelines provided to students by the university or their professors.