Briefing Cases in Law School
Briefing Cases in Law School: Law school is filled with a seemingly never-ending amount of work. The amount of assigned reading alone can be overwhelming and is comprised of almost completely unfamiliar content. Many students come into law school having never read a court opinion before; suddenly reading assignments are full of them. In order to try to absorb all of the information presented in a case, students resort to case briefing, a strategy commonly taught by professors in the first week.
Case briefing involves creating a separate document for each case you read where you break it down into its important components. These include procedural history, issue at hand, facts, rules, reasoning/application of the rule, and holding. While it sounds like a great idea, it becomes incredibly tedious to do. The time you have to spend to do your homework is finite, and in reality, briefing cases in law school can be a huge time suck for some students. There are other, sometimes better, ways to succeed in law school.
However, briefing cases is not a bad skill to have . . .
Briefing cases can be helpful, especially as you are getting used to law school. 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.
Briefing Cases in Law School
Here are the three biggest reasons why hand-writing a case brief for every single case assigned can be inefficient.
1. There just isn’t enough time in the week to get through everything.
During law school most students are taking at least four classes every semester, usually attending at least two each day. A typical reading assignment is usually 30-40 pages long, containing at least three or four cases. If you stop your reading and individually brief every single case when you come across it, it becomes very difficult to finish all of your assignments.
It’s also not a good idea to try to knock out all of your reading on the weekend to have more free time during the week. The material needs to be fresh in your mind before each class in order to be able to actively participate. Reading a day or two ahead is fine, but no more! This makes it all the more important that you budget your time wisely during the week and develop a balance between school and your personal life. Briefing every case sometimes means you won’t be able to get everything done!
2. There are sometimes better uses of your time that will benefit you more for finals.
When sitting for the final, time is precious. You need to have all of your information organized and condensed into one place. The worst thing that could happen is you have to spend those precious minutes flipping through page after page of briefs in order to find that one case you’re looking for. And even when you find it, in all likelihood, only one section (the rule) is going to be relevant. It is far more important to have a quality outline that you have spent time reviewing before the exam.
The best way to make sure you have a worthwhile outline is to work on it throughout the semester. It’s hard to do that when you’re spending so much time briefing cases. If you work on updating your outline after every few classes, you will have far more time to spend reviewing your outline and completing practice exams during the period leading up to finals. Learn how to create a law school outline here. And read several other law school outline posts here.
3. There are sometimes more efficient ways to read cases and learn the critical points.
Book briefing is a strategy you can use to save time. It is a form of case briefing that still ensures you are getting the information. This involves marking up your casebook, labeling the components as you come across them or using a color-coded highlighting system. A warning: if you’re using rental textbooks, make sure you know the acceptable amount of in-book writing you’re allowed to do! But this strategy is sometimes more efficient for students, eliminating the need to leave your book in order to type up your brief. It also helps keep you stay organized as you won’t have to manage an incredible amount of separate documents. You will feel incredibly prepared for that dreaded cold call, as each critical point is already labeled directly in your book.
You can also take advantage of case brief summaries that have already been written. Reading these before you read a case, or even just before class as a memory refresher, gives you a general idea of the most important things to learn. Many textbooks have a companion case brief book that you can purchase. There are also many websites that offer excellent summaries for you to use. This is a great way to learn important information efficiently. Note: we have found that an over-reliance on websites and case brief summaries cause recent law students to not read cases as closely. Please make sure that you are closely reading cases–close reading is one of the hallmarks of a good lawyer.
Law school presents new challenges for everyone, and it is important to develop strong study habits. The sheer amount of work can seem overwhelming, but it is manageable if you learn how to be efficient. So, try briefing cases, and then try other methods (like book briefing) to see what works best for you. Each student learns at their own pace and will find different strategies helpful. Some students may be able to switch to carefully reading cases and book briefing sooner rather than later. Others may need more time case briefing before making the change.