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Case Briefs

How to Write An
Effective Case Brief

Case briefs are documents prepared by students as a study aid when trying to capture the essence and importance of appellate court decisions. A case brief summarizes a court decision by outlining, at a minimum, the facts of the case, the legal issues raised, and the rationale behind the court’s decision. Here is an example of an outline for a comprehensive case brief.

1. Citation:

  • This explains where the Cite can be found. Always provide a full citation of the site you are briefing. (e.g., the volume of the reporter, and the page on which it begins.)
  • Give a complete Cite of the opinion by including parallel cites to other reporters that will print the same opinion, word for word.
  • In the caption of the opinion in the reporter, you are given the name of the court that wrote the opinion and the date of the decision. In the header of the pages the reporter has written, you are given the volume and page number of the reporter. The header is a printer term designating text that is printed in the top margin of every page.

2. Identifying the Parties:

  • Who are the parties? The starting point in identifying the parties is to read the caption at the very beginning of the opinion. It is not unusual to find a case with more than two parties. It is not necessary to list an extensive list of parties. To have every name of every party would serve no purpose. The main parties are usually the first parties printed in the caption. These are otherwise known as the lead party. If you run into a case where more than one party is listed, simply put the main parties name followed by “and others” after the lead party.
    • Example:
      • Dye and others/
        City of Phoenix and others/
  • It is very important that you get into a good habit of classifying the parties into descriptive categories.
    • Example
      Name of party is John Doe.
      A category could be that he is a private citizen.
  • It is also important to select the descriptive category that best describes the party’s relationship to the other party of the role in which the party is in conflict with.
    • To do this, you must read into the opinion very carefully. Try to identify what the dispute between the parties is about. Once you have identified the cause of the dispute, try to categorize the role each party played.

3. Objectives of the Parties:

  • The most important aspect to remember when trying to figure out the objectives of the parties is to go back to the very beginning. Go to where the litigation began. From there, try to figure out what each party was seeking. In the end, what do they want as a result from the litigation?
    • This could be found within the first few paragraphs of the opinion.
    • There is no clear indication in the opinion as to what the objectives of the parties are. You must then use your analyzing skills and looks for clues in the opinion to discover the objectives of both parties.

4. Theories of the Litigation:

  • What legal theories are the parties using? In this you should determine the cause of action, and the defense. Cause of action is simply the legal reasoning for suing. Defense is a legal theory that is raised in response and attempt to defeat the plaintiff’s cause of action.
  • In a criminal case, state what the prosecution was for and the response of the defendant. If the case is on appeal, briefly state the main theory of each party. Refer to specific rules of law when you state the cause of action, prosecution, defense or other response.
  • In identifying the defense of response to a cause of action, if the court does not clearly state the nature of the defense, further read into the opinion. Attempt to infer the defense from whatever information the court provides on the position of the opponent. In some cases, you may have to assume that the defense is a simple denial of the cause of action.


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