Briefing Court Cases
by Judge Richard Poland,
BRIEF: A clear and concise written summary detailing the facts, procedural history, issue(s), holding(s), and rationale of the court's opinion in a particular case. For my classes, the brief should also contain an evaluation of the court's rationale and a synthesis, when appropriate. The purpose of doing a brief is to aid in the comprehension of the case and to have a summary for review purposes prior to an exam.
ELEMENTS OF A BRIEF
- Identification of the Case. Put the name of the case and the legal citation at the top of the page. Eg. Tarasoff v. Regents. (551 P.2d 334.)
- Facts. Summarize what happened in the case. Do not repeat all the facts as given in the case; rather, write about the legally significant facts. Identify the parties, their status, and the nature of the dispute between the parties.
- Procedural History. State what happened in the courts below. This usually involves the trial court and an intermediate appellate court. What was the disposition of each court? What important motions or procedural matters were argued and how did the court dispose of them?
- Issue(s). What is the legal question(s) before the court? Generally, what question is on appeal from the court below? Always put the issue in the form of a question and frame it narrowly.
- Holding. Quite simply, answer the issue(s) raised in the opinion affirmatively or negatively. Then restate the issue in declarative sentence form so you have a Rule of the Case.
- Rationale. This is the heart of the brief. Explain the court's reasoning for deciding the case in the manner which it did. Did the court rely upon precedent, general legal principles, public policy, or something else. Look at the majority opinion for the court's rationale. Discuss dissenting or concurring opinions only when enlightening.
- Evaluation. Do you agree with the court's reasoning? Why or why not?
- Synthesis. This is a "putting together" of the cases you have read that deal with the same issue(s). Integrate this case with the others you have read and briefed. Put the body of law in this area together so it makes sense (if possible) and so you demonstrate your knowledge of the law in this area. What is problematic? What is not?
Published in the SAPLA Handbook for Pre-Law Advising