Learning to brief a case is one of the first things that you learn to do when you’re going to school to become a paralegal. The basic method is often taught in Introduction to Paralegalism (or Introduction to Paralegal Studies). It is reiterated and reinforced in multiple classes: tort law, CALR, and legal research and writing. Of course, all of your legal instructors will expect you to know how to brief a case. Getting a formal paralegal education involves a lot of reading. Even if you don’t use case briefing a lot as a paralegal, you rely on this skill in school and the skills are equally helpful in the real world. Here are 2 secrets to help you master the art of case briefing.
Use the Basic Outline
Now, your instructors may request that you use a specific outline and they may want the components listed in a certain order. Always read your syllabus. Always read through handouts that are given to you. Always follow the outline or order that your instructor requests.
The basic outline of a case brief can be summarized using the acronym of IRAC.
In two or three sentences, summarize the issue of the case. If a case has more than one issue, you will likely do more than one case briefing. Doing one case briefing per issue will help you separate out your issues and it will also help you to not confuse the laws and rulings that are given in any particular case. Yes, it takes longer, but it is worth it.
What are the laws that are being used to decide the issue? It is best to write out each law or statute as well as its Blue Book standard citation (for future reference). If the court relied on another case to make a ruling, make sure that you include that case and its Blue Book standard citation. You may want to go and read that case at some point so that you can get a better grasp on the case at hand. Often, instructors don’t want just the rules that the court relied upon. They will also want the ruling of the court. Make sure that you talk to your instructor about their preference. They may prefer that this section only list the court ruling and that the laws relied upon are discussed in the Analysis section.
The analysis section is generally the longest part of a case brief. You should still do your best to keep it succinct and related only to the issue. Why did the court rule as they did? What did they rely upon? How did they interpret the law? You do not need to write out the verbatim of the analysis that you pulled up in Westlaw or LexisNexis. The purpose of a case brief is to create a summary. So, keep it short and only include what is absolutely necessary.
You’ll write a very short summary of your case brief. For example:
In _______ V. __________________, Blue Book citation, the LISTED COURT examined the issue of ________________________________. The Judge ruled that ____________________________. The Court relied upon ______________________ and __________________________ statutes to come to this ruling.
If you ever perform a case briefing for a lawyer, they may want to know whether the case can be used to support a current client’s position in court.
Understand How to Read Statutory Language
Statutes are written in a broad way. This is because they are meant to cover a wide variety of situations. So, it is the job of the court to take a very broad statute and apply it to a specific situation. Reading and interpreting statutory language is a skill that you must develop. Of course, it is not the job of a paralegal to provide interpretations of a statute to someone in need of legal advice. Doing so is the unauthorized practice of law.
As a paralegal, you may be asked to read statutes by your supervising attorney. As such, it is important that you understand how to read statutes the right way. As you read, ask yourself these questions:
- Whose actions are covered by the statute?
- What kind of actions are required, allowed, or prohibited?
- When did the statute go into effect?
- Where must the actions discussed in the statute take place in order to be covered?
- What consequences result if the statute is not followed?
Additionally, you must watch for certain words. So, it’s important that you read the statute in its entirety to make sure that you don’t miss anything. Watch for words that are considered structural signals. A structural signal means that something in the statute changes:
- Limited to
Each one of those words (and others) have their own meaning and are not necessarily interchangeable with other words. When in doubt, look it up even if a word seems extremely common in nature.
While you may not do a lot of case briefing in certain areas of law, understanding how to brief a case (and how to read and interpret applicable law) is a valuable skill that you will use as a paralegal regardless of the area of law that you work in.