How and Why to Brief a Law CaseProf. Joseph Little, Jr., Saint Leo University
purpose of reading in the practice of law is different from the purpose
of reading in many otherdisciplines. In law, you read not just to
familiarize yourself with someone else’s ideas but to be able to usethe
information to answer a question. This requires understanding judicial
opinions in depth and being able to use the information in a number of
cases to formulate an answer to a new question. Therefore,passively
reading cases is not sufficient; you must deconstruct the opinion into
its component parts and state those components in your own words and in
an easily accessible format. Then the information is at hand for you to
apply to a new set of facts.
Briefing a case requires you to put the
material into your own words. To do this, you have to understand it.
Underlining text does not require you to understand it. Moreover,
briefing a case reduces the volume ofmaterial so you can find what you
need. Underlining does not accomplish this goal either.
will complete a brief on the following case and submit it to the
Dropbox no later than Sunday 11:59 PM EST/EDT of Module 4:
Brady v. National Football League, 640 F.3D 785 (2011)
lawyer briefs cases differently. A case brief generally consists of a
series of topic headings with the specific information from the case
under each heading. Most case briefs contain similar information butthe
headings and their sequence may be different. Some professors have a
preferred briefing format. You are only required to follow the general
format as set forth below.
The following is adapted from A Practical Guide to Legal Writing and Legal Method (Dernbach, et al., 2007).
Case name: Include the full citation, including the date of the
opinion, for future reference and citation. An example would be as
follows: State v. Holloran, 140 NH 563 (1995). Refer to Bluebook
todetermine the correct name for the case.
2. Pincites: Include
pinpoint cites (cites to a particular page in the case) throughout the
case brief so you can find material again quickly within a case.
History: What happened to the case before it arrived in this court? If
it is an appellate case, list the decisions made by the lower court(s)
and note what decision is being reviewed (e.g.,jury verdict, summary
judgment). You may need to look up procedural phrases with which you are
4. Facts: Include only the facts that were relevant to
the court’s decision. You are unlikely to know what these are until you
have read the entire opinion. Many cases may include procedural facts
that arerelevant to the decision in addition to the facts that happened
5. Issue: The particular question the court had to
decide in this case. It usually includes specific facts as well as a
legal question. It may be expressed or implied in the decision. Cases
may have more thanone issue.
6. Holding/Decision: The legal answer to
the issue. If the issue is clearly written, then the holding can be
expressed as “yes” or “no.” (Be careful not to confuse the holding with
implicit reasoning. See # 8below.)
7. Rule: The general legal principle(s) relevant to the particular factual situation presented in the case.
Reasoning: The logical steps the court takes to arrive at the holding.
It can be straightforward and obvious, or you may have to extrapolate it
from the holding. Some reasoning is based on socialpolicy, which tells
you why the holding is socially desirable. Understanding the reasoning
behind a decision is essential.
9. Disposition: A statement of what the court actually did in the case (affirmed, overruled, etc.)
Dissent/Concurrence: Although this part of the opinion is not
considered law, it may help you better understand some information about
the legal reasoning in the case. Not all cases have a dissent
orconcurrence, while some may have more than one.
Include your own responses to the case here. For example, does the
reasoning make sense? Is the holding consistent with other cases you
have read? Is the case relevant to the questionyou are trying to answer?
This is a good place to note connections between the case you are
briefing and other cases you have read.
Sample Case Brief Remember,
most case briefs contain similar information but the headings and their
sequence may be different than what is outlined above. You should
include in your brief all elements that you deemnecessary whether or not
they are included in the sample below.
NameLuke Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th Cir. 1992)
Procedural HistoryAppealed from the trial court decision.
Records, Inc., a recording label, held a contract with the musical
group 2 Live Crew. This group was well known in the genre of “Rap”
music, which has repeatedly been accused of incorporating”obscene”
lyrics into the music. Obscene, in this sense, pertains only to the
legal definition of obscenity, not what any particular person or moral
code may deem obscene. Luke Records, Inc. wasa Florida Corporation and
Nick Navarro was the sheriff of Broward County at the time. The sheriff
obtained an ex-parte injunction (this means an injunction without both
parties being present at the initial hearing) granting the sheriff an
injunction (a court order to “stop” doing a particular act).
Thisinjunction was served on local record stores in an effort to have
the music removed from Florida retail sale. After the local Florida
Circuit Court in Broward County issued the injunction, the decision was
appealed to the United States District Court for Southern Florida where
the Court ordered the sheriff to stop enforcing the injunction, but did,
in fact, rule that the music was obscene, especially the song”As Nasty
As They Wanna Be.” The sheriff appealed the case to the United States
Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, in Atlanta.
IssueIs this music obscene under Florida state law and/or federal Constitution?
RuleObscenity must meet three part rule. Based on Supreme Court case
Miller v. CA. All three parts must be met:(a) whether “the average
person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the
work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;(b) whether the
work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct
specifically defined by the applicable state law; and(c) whether the
work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or
ReasoningThe burden of proof could be clear and
convincing or preponderance of the evidence test: however, at the time
the sheriff was granted the music, he offered nothing into evidence
except a tape of themusic played before the court. There was no
additional evidence presented that showed an average person applying
contemporary community standards would find the song appealing only to a
prurientinterest. Further, the sheriff failed to prove part (b) and (c)
of the test as well simply because he made no attempt to enter any
other testimony or evidence into consideration before the court. The
sheriff failed to meet his burden, although it is well possible that had
he submitted all evidence as required,he could possibly have met the
CommentsCase really determined by the sheriff’s failure of
proof. No discussion of nature of music. No discussion of rule. No
proper evidence submitted to the court.
WestLawTo complete the assignment, you will need to first locate the
case in the WestLaw database through the Saint Leo University Online
Library. Follow the steps below and contact the university library
directly if youhave any technical difficulty (see the syllabus for
contact info). Do not contact the eCollege Help Desk. If you have access
to a local law library, feel free to obtain copies of the assigned
cases there instead.
1. Log on to the Saint Leo Portal at http://my.saintleo.edu. 2. 3.4.Click Library at the top of My Saint Leo Home page. Cl
ick Databases under FIND INFO.A new browser window will open. Click
WestLaw from the list of databases (you may need to scroll down). Note:
As long as you are logged on to My Saint Leo, you will not need to enter
a separatepassword for WestLaw. If you are not logged on to the portal,
you will be prompted to logon (use your portal UD and password).Search
for the case by etools available, though the simplest may be “Find a
document by title” under Shortcuts. This allows you to enter the names
of the parties in the case. For example, to search for Brown v. Board
ofEducation, you would type “Brown” in the first text box and “Board of
Education” in the second text box. ClickThe case documentation willthat
you entered the names of the parties correctly. You are encouraged to
print a copy of the case to better assist you in completing the
assignment.5.ntering the case name as your search terms. You can use any
of the searchGo6. 7. after entering the names of the parties.display
once the search completes. If the search is unsuccessful, check
Scoring RubricStudents will complete the assignment with attention to the following criteria:
Exemplary: Proficient:Basic:Novice:Not Attempted: Corresponds to an F (0-59%)
Corresponds to an A- to A (90-100%) Corresponds to a B- to B+ (80-89%)Corresponds toCorresponds to a D to D+ (60-69%)
a C- to C+ (70-79%)CriteriaNot Attempted (Criterion ismissing or not in evidence)
0-14.99% There was littleor no evidence of proper citation ofthe case
and proceduralhistory.Novice (does not meetexpectations; performance
15-17.49% Case citation andprocedural history is
evident, but thecitations areincorrect asform, spelling, numeric
correctness or theessential procedural historyof the case is
incomplete.The case brief is entirely too short.
Basic (works towardsmeeting expectations;performance needs
improvement)17.5-19.99% The case briefaddressesbut not all, of partsof
thehistory, but theprocedural history is out of sequence or difficult
todiscern or minor formatting orspelling errors have occurred.The case
brief contains a greatProficient (meetsexpectations; performance
20-22.49% The case briefaddresses allof theprocedural
history in full, but same isnot entirely clear or
straight-forward.Exemplary (exceedsexpectations; performance
22.5-25 The case briefcitation and procedural hisare
correct andadeaddresses all parts of clearly and in properchronological
ScoreElementsCase Name Citation andProcedural Historymost,parts citation andtory
to citation and25%quately
__/25Length Requirements25%There was little or no evidence of a case brief.
case brief is just a little on short side and/or it meets the requirements
only because it contains The case brief falls within the required
length requirements without going over and without straying from the main
topic.The case brief is nearly perfect with respect to grammar,
citations,spelling, and style.
the deal of “fluff” and still does not meet the
length requirement.__/25“fluff” that could use trimming.The case brief
is mostly free errors with respect to grammar,citations, spelling, and/or
style, but neeimprovement in this area.The case brief exhibits
sufficient understanding of the text and/course but some improvement needed.
Mechanics of Writing25%Little to no evidence of proper writing mechanics.
grammar of the case brief greatly impedes understanding of content,
and/or the paper contains nocitations.The case brief needs a good deal of
improvement with respect to grammar, citations, spelling, and/or style.of
ds some Understanding 25%The case brief exhibits a complete lack of
understanding of the text and/or course materials.The case brief exhibits
very little understanding of the text and/or course materials.The case
brief exhibits basic understanding of the text and/orcourse materials,
but needs improvement in this area.The case brief does an excellent
job demonstrating an accurate understanding of the text and/or course