Need help with your case brief assignment? Have you looked at a case brief example but still find yourself puzzled? Whether you are unfamiliar with the case brief structure or are not sure how to properly cite your work, you can think of this article as a “How to brief a case for dummies.”
Case Brief Definition
If you are studying law, the case brief assignment is something that you will come across all the time. Case briefs serve a very practical purpose, namely to help law students understand, interpret and apply laws using previous court cases as examples. It starts with identifying a court case, summarizing the facts of this case, discussing why it was notable, the court’s decision (and dissent, if any) and their rational.
What Does a Case Brief Look Like?
While the way your case brief assignment is written depends on your professor’s instructions, there are certain features that all of them possess. Here is how you will typically structure a case brief:
- You will start with titling the case brief with the parties of the case. Begin by stating the name of the plaintiff(s) first followed by the defendant if it is the original case. However, in appellate cases you start with the person filing the appeal regardless as to whether it is the plaintiff or defendant.
- Every notable court case involves a certain amount of controversy, which is why they are almost always appealed and make their way through the courts. Thus, you will provide a procedural history of the case starting with the original ruling all the way up to the appellate courts and state or federal Supreme Court.
- You will discuss the issue surrounding the case. There are main questions to ask:
- What was the purpose of the litigation?
- What did each of the parties hope to gain?
- What events/circumstances lead to the case going to court?
- What laws were applied as the case?
- What was the court’s decision and why did they reach it?
- What issues lead to the case being tried in court? In other words, what questions did the court have to answer? List each issue separately, using one sentence per issue.
- What arguments did each of the parties present during the case? Focus on how the arguments were framed and how each side argued against the other side’s points.
- Discuss the court’s ruling. What was the basis for the decision? It might be necessary to discuss the context, especially the cases the court cites.
- Discuss any dissenting opinions. Briefly explain the dissenting judge(s) arguments and rationale.
- Discuss the legal justification. Identify any laws, regulations or legal principles related to the case. These will serve to determine how consistent you believe the court was as they interpreted the laws.
- Conclusions and implications. This is where you will discuss the importance of the case, especially if it is a landmark decision. Beyond the case itself, you might want to discuss how the society has been affected as a result. Are there things that the court failed to take into consideration?
Length of the Case Brief
A case brief should be limited to around 2 pages (600 words), not including any concurrent opinions or dissents. While you might find a case to be particularly interesting and feel tempted to include as much information as possible, the purpose of this assignment is to provide the details while remaining concise. Focus on the essential facts that had the biggest impact on the case.
Case Brief Format
The way your assignment is formatted depends on your professor’s instructions. However, most of them follow the format of IRAC: the issue, rule, application and conclusion. The first step when examining any case is to identify the central legal issue that it is built around. Next, you will discuss how the court determined what rules were pertinent in this court case, particularly as it relates to precedent and statue. Then you will evaluate how the rules were applied in the case. Finally, you will reach conclusions as to whether the decision was made on the basis of the tribunal of fact or as a matter of law.
As you are working on the case brief, it is also important that you cite any of the cases that you use in the paper so that others can easily access them and understand those cases better.
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Keys to Success
As a law student you will be required to do a lot of reading. While it might feel like your professors are torturing you, the truth is that the legal field is highly complex and therefore merits a deep understanding of the mechanisms of law, the ability to think critically, and to be able to interpret laws and argue for or against particular points of view. Case briefs might not be the most exciting assignment, but they are a key component of the learning process. This is why your professors are so included to assign them. In addition, since a lot of your law courses are discussion-based, you will often by called on to inform your classmates about important cases. Therefore, it is important that you familiarize yourself with those cases, evaluate the arguments made by the parties, and determine why the courts rendered their decision.
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