Case Brief Instructions
In this course, you will be required to read cases and write “case briefs” in which you provide a synopsis of a legal case. These case briefs will follow the “IRAC” format of legal analysis, which we will discuss in class and which is discussed in these instructions. The goal of a case brief is to condense the court’s opinion in a case into an easy to read synopsis for future reference. Lawyers use case briefs to help them understand and make sense of voluminous and complex court opinions. Learning to brief cases is an excellent exercise to help you both understand the law better, but also just to help your general reading comprehension and analysis skills as well as your writing skills. Synopsizing complex information is a common type of writing you are required to do in a business environment.
In this class, your case briefs must meet the following requirements:
· With respect to formatting, your case brief must be written in 12 point, Times New Roman font, single spaced (0pt between lines ) with double spacing between paragraphs/sections. Both your right and left margins must be justified . If you don’t know how to justify the right margin in Word, it is a very simple setting. If you Google “how to justify right margins in Word” or something similar, you will find numerous videos and tutorials online which will show you how to do it. Headings must be bold font. Failure to follow these formatting requirements will result in a reduction to your grade. I have provided you with a sample case brief that is formatted properly which you can use as a template.
· There is no set page length minimums or maximums, but I would expect you should be able to brief the cases in this course in 1-2 pages. The point of a case brief is to have a concise document for easy reference, so focus on providing sufficient detail about the case, but doing so in as concise a manner as possible.
· I will be grading for content as well as for grammar, sentence structure, style, etc. Your case briefs should look like professional quality documents you would be proud to produce to an employer at work!
· It is acceptable to have a little bit of quoting from the opinion, particularly for very important parts of the court’s ruling which are important to record exactly. However, most of the brief (with the exception of the “Rule” section) should be in your own words. The point of the assignment is to learn to process and write a synopsis of complex information – you should not just be copying and pasting. Excessive copying and pasting from the case will result in a significant point reduction, up to and including receiving a zero on the assignment!
· Plagiarism is an academic dishonesty violation, and I will be checking for plagiarism closely. You should not go search online for an existing case brief and copy it. If I find any copying, then you will receive punishment for academic dishonesty, up to and including a failing grade in the course.
· These case briefs are individual assignments. You should not be collaborating with others in the class in drafting your answer.
With respect to content, your case briefs must contain the following sections:
· Title: A title that includes the name of the case with its citation. You will find this information in the title of the case document.
· Procedural Background: A section titled “Procedural Background.” All of the cases you will be assigned to read are appellate cases. That means that something happened to the case at the trial level and the action of the trial court has been appealed by one (or both) of the parties. If the case you have been assigned is a Supreme Court case, then the case will have been appealed from the trial court to an intermediate Circuit Court of Appeals (for example, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas and some other states), and from there to the Supreme Court of the United States. If the case you have been assigned is from a Circuit Court of Appeals, the case will have just been appealed from a trial court. In the Procedural Background section, you will describe what happened in the case that led to the case ending up in an appellate court. You will find this information in the case – make sure you read closely and locate it.
· Facts: A section titled “Facts.” In this section, you will provide a brief synopsis of the factual basis of the case. This case explains the factual background of what happened to the parties that led to a lawsuit being filed. Make sure you focus on setting out all of the relevant facts necessary to understanding the case. You want to be concise in this section, but you still must provide enough information to the reader that your reader can read your Fact section and have a basic understanding of why the parties to the case ended up in a legal dispute.
· Issue: A section titled “Issue.” In this section you must state the issue(s) that the court is resolving in the opinion. Sometimes you will find that the court expressly addresses this in its opinion (The court may say something like “The issue before the court is . . . “). Other times the court will not expressly state the issue and you will have to figure this out for yourself. This section should be very short – one case may have multiple issues (or may not) but you should be able to state each issue before the court in one sentence. The issue statement should be stated as a question – the “issue” in a case is the legal question(s) that the court has to address to resolve the case.
· Rule: A section titled “Rule.” In this section, you will set forth the legal rules/laws being applied by the court to resolve the case. It is important that you state the law used by the court correctly so that the application section is correct. In this section, it is OK to do some direct copying of the rule so you are sure you are writing it correctly. If you copy from the case, make sure you put any copying in quotes.
· A common mistake students make in this section is that they state the “ruling” of the court (i.e. the legal conclusion the court reaches) in this section. You should not be stating the court’s ruling in this section. You should be laying out the law that the court uses to reach this ruling. Reference the sample case brief to see this distinction.
· Application: A section titled “Application.” In this section, you will set forth a synopsis of the court’s application of the law to the facts of the case – i.e. the court’s reasoning that justifies its ruling. This is the “meat” of your case brief and is the most important part of this assignment. This is where you explain the rationale behind the court’s ruling in your own words. This should be your longest and most detailed section, and the section on which you spend the most time. Focus on taking the oftentimes dense language of the court and trying to re-write it in a way that is easier to understand, while still capturing the essence of the court’s ruling. There should be little to no copying from the case in this section.
· This is the section that students struggle on the most. The reason is because it is hard and it requires you to do a lot of independent thinking. Make sure you start on your briefs early enough that you can put a lot of attention into this section.
· The key to getting your Rule and Application sections right is to understand that they have to flow into each other. If your Application section does not reference back to your rule section, then either your Rule section is wrong or your Application section is wrong. The Application section should be like showing your work in a math problem, and the Rule section is like the formula you are applying. They have relate to each other or the analysis doesn’t make sense.
· Conclusion: A section titled “Conclusion.” In this section, you will state the court’s ruling – i.e. the court’s ultimate conclusion to the issue addressed in the case. This section should be relatively short – for the cases in this class, one, maybe two sentences will suffice. Keep in mind in this section you are not explaining the rationale of the court (that is for the previous section) but just briefly stating the conclusion.
· If you find yourself writing a lot in this section, you are not doing your brief correctly.
To help you with this assignment, I have provided you with a sample brief that I wrote. Learning to brief cases well can be difficult, but is a very important and valuable exercise. The trick to doing well on these assignments is: 1. read the cases closely, 2. fully and completely follow the instructions, and 3. work hard on the assignment and don’t just try to find the answer online! I have found that students frequently just want to “look up” the answer rather than do the work themselves. Doing the work is the point – you’ll never learn to do something well unless you go through the process of learning rather than just copying. There is also a good chance that whatever you find online is either incorrect or is not in the format I am looking for, so your grade will suffer anyway.