Alright, my law student friends, time to stop briefing cases! (And start outlining…)
Fact: I forgot how to brief cases. I have to re-learn how to brief cases every time I teach law students or prelaw students how to brief cases. Why did I forget? Because I hardly ever briefed cases in law school!
However, briefing cases is not a bad skill to have . . .
Briefing cases can be helpful, especially in the beginning of the semester. Briefing cases helps you become detail-oriented and it is helpful for dissecting somewhat complicated fact patterns. It helps you to remain focused when you read. Perhaps it makes you less nervous if you’re called on. Briefing cases also helps you get comfortable with legal language if you regularly put the facts and law into your own words when writing your case briefs.
But there are two major downsides of briefing cases:
1. It takes so much time! Briefing cases is extremely time-consuming. If you brief every case you are assigned, we bet you will not have very much time to do anything else!
If you have been briefing cases up to this point in the semester, ask yourself: Have I started outlining? Have I started learning my outlines? Have I completed any practice problems? If the answer is no to any of those questions, you may have to reevaluate how much time you spend briefing cases.
2. Case briefs will not help you on the final exam. Most professors do not test the facts of cases on their final exams. (If you are worried that your professor might, ask them if they have past exams available and see for yourself! If they do not have past exams available, ask them if they test cases.) You may be very surprised to hear that many students that do not refer to one single case when writing their final exam answers, still get A’s on their final exams!
If you are convinced that you should stop briefing every case you are assigned, you may be wondering what to do with all of your newly found free time! . . .
What should I do Instead of Briefing Cases?
If you find that briefing cases is not helpful for you, especially after trying it for a few weeks, do these two things instead:
1. Move to “book briefing” cases. That is, simply highlight (in different colors) the facts, the procedural history, the holding, and the analysis for the cases you are assigned. This takes significantly less time and will still help you get a lot out of cases.
2. Try out more productive ways to study: Outline, memorize your outlines, and take practice exams. (Read our free guide on how to excel on law school exams here if you are curious about how to do this and why these things help you on your final exams!).
Notice that obsessing over cases is not likley one of the things that will help you on exams! (For that reason, if you also think you are spending too much time reading cases, see this helpful blog post on how and why to spend less time on cases.)