Briefing Cases in Law School

Briefing Cases In Law School Is Overrated

Usually one of the first tips an incoming law student receives is that he or she should brief every case that they are assigned. This is one of the worst pieces of advice! In fact, it could have an adverse effect on your performance on law school exams. Below we explain why briefing cases in law school is a big mistake.

Four Reasons Why Briefing Cases In Law School Is Overrated

 1. Briefing cases is an inefficient use of your time.

Why is briefing cases in law school overrated? First, consider how much you have to read outside of class. First-year law students at most law schools take 4 bar exam classes during the first semester in addition to legal research and writing. If you were to brief every case each week you easily brief 20-30 cases each week. You won’t have time in your day for much else after you attend class. Most students also focus on extraneous information while case briefing and end up writing briefs that are one page long. Most of this is information that you will never need to pass a law school exam! The most important information you need to extract from a case is the holding (rule statement).

2. Most professors won’t ask you recite case names in your exam.

For the majority of your classes, your professors will not ask you to provide case names on your exam. If you are in doubt about this at all, ask your professor during office hours or at the end of class at the beginning of the semester. My Constitutional Law professor did expect us to know case names, but that was the one exception to all of my first-year law school classes. Even then, you will have to know the rule and the case that illustrates the rule. (You will not have to recite the procedural history, facts, etc.)

Surprisingly, most professors also will not expect you recite the specific facts of a case in your final exam. Again, if you doubt this, look at your professor’s past exams. Sometimes, professors provide them in class, post them on online, or put them on reserve in the library. Examine the model answer or “sample answers.” You will likely be surprised to see how few cases show up!  Because professors generally don’t require case names or specific facts from cases, it is an ineffective use of your time to spend your time briefing cases.

3. You should be spending your time outlining and doing practice questions.

As noted before, the most important information from each case is the rule statement. These rule statements, key facts from the case, and any hypos, or policy reasons mentioned by your professor in class should be compiled in an outline. This is the tool that you will use throughout the semester to help you learn the concepts, memorize the material, and assist you in answering practice exams. If you are looking for advice on outlining, please see our in-depth guide.  One of the most common mistakes we see students make is copying and pasting all of their class notes into one document and calling it an outline. Learning extraneous information is not going to help you pass the exam – you will be losing sight of the big picture.

To make sure that you understand the class material, take the time to do your professor’s practice exams. Then, invest in supplements if you are struggling with an area of law. The Examples and Explanations series is good resource in make sure you understand each concept. At the end of each chapter the authors provide a series of short answer questions and answers. These will help you understand how to answer a short answer question or essay question on a law school exam. Other supplements that include practice problems include the Glannon Guide series, Siegel’s series, and LexisNexis Q & A series. Memorizing the rule statement is not enough – you need to be able to spot the relevant issue in fact pattern and understand how to apply the rule to the facts at hand.

4. Prepare for class by book briefing.

Even though we don’t recommend briefing cases, we still want you to be prepared for class. This means knowing the specifics of the case so that you can easily follow along in class or answer questions if you are on call. Further, learning how to read a case is an important skill. We suggest that students prepare for class by book briefing. Underline, highlight, and/or take notes in the margins of your casebook. If you choose to highlight, use a color-coding system so that you can quickly identify the holding (rule statement), the plaintiff’s argument, the defendant’s argument, etc. This will save you a lot of time because you won’t be rewriting or retyping lengthy paragraphs from each case.

Ambika, one of our bar exam tutors, wrote this post on why briefing cases in law school is overrated. She has passed three bar exams, including California, New York, and New Jersey. She has helped several law students and bar exam students. She scored in the 95 percentile on the MBE, and specializes in helping students raise their uniform bar exam scores!