Should I Brief Cases In Law School?

Should I Brief Cases In Law School?: On day 1 of my first year legal research and writing class we learned about briefing cases.  We were taught how to break down cases into their components (procedural history, issue presented, facts, rule, reasoning/analysis, conclusion), and we learned the importance of each.  Our first homework assignment was to make a word document template for briefing cases and to then fill it in for one case.  The assumption was that this would become a habit and we would make a word document brief for every case we encountered in our reading.

Should I Brief Cases In Law School?

In law school, each reading assignment generally contains at least three cases.  Most classes meet at least twice a week.  Most students are taking at least 4 classes.  Doing the math, that is 24 case briefs per week – at a minimum.  I briefed every case for about a week before I realized I was wasting valuable time. Here are a few things to keep in mind about briefing cases.

1. Briefing cases is not the best way to work through class material.

So – should I brief cases in law school?  No. You will become overloaded with documents to search through when looking for answers either during class or in studying for the exam. In addition, much of the information contained in a case brief offers no long term value.  The most important thing to get out of a case is the rule. The rule is what you need to take into your exam and apply to the fact pattern tested.  The reasoning and analysis used by the judges could be helpful in some cases , but knowing minute details about each case is never useful. By finals,, you want all of your critical information contained in one document, your outline.  Having important rules buried among distractions is only going to hurt you in the end.

2. Instead, focus on significant rules and the bigger picture.

The time saved not briefing cases in law school can then be spent preparing for other things. For example, you should spend more time on your outline throughout the semester and fill in the critical points from the cases and from class discussion as you go along.

3. Book briefing is a more efficient way to work through cases.

While you should not be using your time to create a separate brief for each individual case, there are efficient and valuable ways you can still “brief” cases in law school.  Once I stopped writing out new briefs every time, I began book briefing. I made notations directly in my book of  the critical pieces of information in each case.  Specifically, I developed a color coding system to identify the rule or conclusion immediately if I was called on in class.

This method trains you to quickly identify what parts of the case are most important, which ultimately saves you time.  There are also countless tools , either on the internet or in Casenotes legal briefs, available for purchase where you can read briefs put together by others as a way to supplement the readings. This also stops you from getting bogged down in the sometimes superfluous case details.

If you do not like color-coding systems, you can just write “RULE” “Plaintiff’s argument” “Defendant’s argument” etc. write in the margins of your case.

Time is finite.  For the vast majority, individually briefing cases in law school is not an efficient use of your time.  There are far more efficient ways to identify the critical points in a case.  Try a few different strategies and see what works best for you! Just make sure you are investing your time wisely – you won’t get it back!

Laura Sigler, a  JD Advising bar exam essay grader, who graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School wrote this post.