Critical Elements of a Legal Brief
Reading, interpreting, and writing in the legal field can prove to be challenging for anyone--the material is generally very dense, with such an incredible amount of information that every single word matters. Many legal students--as well as students in business, political science, history, and many other disciplines--dread having to write case briefs to the point that it causes anxiety.
This anxiety is needless; anyone can write a cohesive, effective, and efficient case brief as long as they are familiar with the necessary components--and how to properly apply them. Although the exact formatting of the brief itself may vary slightly from instructor to instructor, every brief will contain the same basic elements--as indicated in the following checklist:
- Case title and Citations: Although this is perhaps the easiest part of briefing a case, too often students lose valuable points due to improper citations. The title should include both the Plaintiff and the Defendant, including the names of both parties or their respective representatives. Just as important is the actual citation itself--for example, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)Ã¯Â»Â¿ is the correct citation for Brown v. Board of Education. The citation indicates the year the case was decided, the Court that decided it, as well as where the decision can be found in law books.
- Facts of the Case: Although this section can get lengthy, you should try and keep it as short as possible. This is where you shortly summarize the complaints and needs of both parties, as well as the history of the case as far as the legal system is concerned. If the case is on appeal, then explain and summarize findings and reasoning of the lower courts.
- Legal Issues/Questions: This is probably the most important part of any case brief. Here you must explain what particular legal issues are in question. You must analyze this from three different perspectives: consider any Constitutional issues the case may raise, in addition to relevant statutory law, as well as precedence set by prior case law. Break this down into sections to make it as cohesive as possible.
- Decisions of the Court: In this section, any legal questions that you previously stated should be addressed. Become very familiar with the terms "remanded", "reversed", and "affirmed". Often people will say so-and-so won the case, when really the Court was only ruling on one particular legal issue, and sent the case back to the lower courts to rule based on their judgement. Any statutory, Constitutional, or case law relevant to the case and previously cited should also be discussed based on the decision of the court.
- Reasoning and Analysis: This is where you tie up the loose ends. Give your own opinion on the ruling, but make sure your reasoning is backed with solid evidence. Analyze the ideologies of the individual justices to better understand their rationale in the decision. Do not only look at the majority opinion either--concurring and dissenting opinions can shed true light on the way a case was decided, and include your analysis of these documents as well. Explain the significance of the case in history, and moving forward as well.
Case briefs can certainly seem to be difficult, but as long as you consider and include the above elements, you will achieve success in writing them. The more legal reading you do, the better legal writer you will become, and every brief you complete will be an improvement. The above tips should give you a foundation for writing and effective legal brief.
About AJ Romano
I am a life long student who believes ardently in the Socratic method. I love to read, absorb information, and write--write--and write some more! I live to learn, teach, and for my lovely fiance.