Case Briefing in Law School


Case briefing can be a difficult process because there is so much that goes into case briefing. My first semester I am pretty sure I was not briefing my cases correctly until the middle of the semester. I finally found a method to my madness, and it has worked for me. I use different color highlighters for different things that I look for in cases. I will discuss the 4 colors that I use to case brief in my textbook.

BLUE is the color I use to represent the ISSUE(S) in the case

  • A keyword to look for when issue-spotting is the word “whether”. Whenever I see that word I take my blue highlighter and highlight until the end of the sentence.

Example: “Whether Lodowick Post, by the pursuit with his hounds in the manner alleged in his declaration, acquired such a right to, or property in, the fox, as will sustain an action against Pierson for killing and taking him way.

  • The issue does not always start with whether. It can be in the form of a question.

Example: Do the parties have a legally binding contract?

  • Issue-spotting is very important in law school because it is the question the court is trying to answer.
  • There can be many issues within one case, so it is important to find all of them.

YELLOW is the color I use to represent the FACTS in the case

  • This is the color that I use the most of. I go through yellow highlighters a lot!
  • The twist to this is that I take notes on the side. In the beginning I would just have yellow highlighter everywhere, and it was not effective for me.
  • So, I now write in the margins of textbook when I identify legally relevant facts. I usually do not highlight the background facts such as, if they were talking about someone’s age or city they grew up in UNLESS they are important to the case.

Example: if they were talking about age regarding a tort or a contract, this could possibly be important depending on the issue(s) of the case.

  • Some facts can distract you from what is important, and it is a great skill to be able to highlight the necessary facts because there are long fact patterns in some cases.

GREEN is the color I use to represent the RULE(S) OF LAW in the case

  • The rule of law is the legal principle(s) that the court used to solve the issue. This can often be found in elements.

Example: if the plaintiff is trying to prove Battery, then the court will likely use elements.

  1. Intentional act taken by the defendant
  2. To create harmful or offensive contact to the plaintiff’s person,
  3. Contact follows
  • There are also rules of law that do not have elements

Example: pursuit alone vests no property or right in the huntsman; and that even pursuit, accompanied with wounding is equally ineffectual for that purpose, unless the animal be actually taken.

PINK is the color I use to represent the HOLDING in the case

  • This is the answer to the issue at dispute.

Example: mere pursuit gave Post no legal right to the fox, but that he became the property of Pierson, who intercepted and killed him.

Reasoning/Rationale is VERY important. I do not have a color for this one, but it is saying how the court reached its decision after applying the rule of law to the set of facts to answer the issue. This goes through the reasons for the holding, which can also lead to policy arguments.

Procedural History is another thing that you can keep in mind when reading cases that I do not have a color for, but take a mental note. This is where you put the decisions made by the lower court.

Example: If you are in the Supreme Court of the United States, then the procedural history would include the United States District Court decision, and the United States Court of Appeals decision.

These are the things that I look for while case briefing. This helps me because if the professor cold calls on me to ask the facts of the case, then I know to look for yellow. If they ask me what rule(s) of law was applied, then I look for green. If they ask for the holding of the case, then I look for pink. If they ask me what the issue(s) of the case was, then I look for blue. I only use my textbook. You can also type or write these out if that works better for you!


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