How To Write a Case Brief in 7 Steps (With Tips and Example)
Updated December 21, 2022
One of the main responsibilities of legal professionals is to produce legal documents for their cases. Each document adheres to a court system's specific format and standards to present case arguments as effectively as possible. If you're interested in working in the legal system, knowing the steps necessary for producing a professional and informative case brief can be beneficial and help you decide if this task and others typical of the job fit your career interests and goals.
In this article, we define what a case brief is, list which elements to include in one, provide a step-by-step guide on how to write a case brief, offer brief-writing tips along with an example you can reference when producing your own case brief.
What is a case brief?
A case brief is an analysis summary of a legal argument. This document, which legal professionals sometimes refer to as a case summary or legal brief, states a party's legal argument in a court case in a comprehensible way. Mostly, this document is for one's own reference.
In appellate courts, however, each side of a case presents its own brief to the court as a way of briefly stating a specific argument using case law precedents, statistics and policy arguments to help the judge make a decision. The petitioner usually files their brief first, and the respondent has a specified amount of time to file a reply brief. These documents are often public record, making them accessible to anyone who wishes to search for it.
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What to include in a case brief
While each case has its own unique details—and uses varied versions of this outline—a brief should include only the most important points of your case and stay within 600 words before concurrences and dissents, using the following headings:
Title and citation
Rule of law
Holding and reasoning
How to write a case brief
Here are some steps you can follow when writing a case brief:
1. Choose the right case brief format
There are several similar formats you might choose for your legal case. Most include the same general information but might use slightly different terminology. While each court might have slightly different formats they use to describe the case, the most effective protocol is to use the format that is most useful or appropriate for your specific case.
2. Start with the title, citation and author
A case brief can start with the title of the case, citation and author. The title names the two opposing sides of the argument. The name of the person or party who initiated legal action, either the petitioner or plaintiff, appears first, followed by the respondent, or defendant.
The citation provides the contact details of the case reporter. A case report is a publication that includes legal cases in a particular jurisdiction and provides a way to research the case details if necessary. The author is the party writing the document.
3. State the facts of the case
Next, state the facts that are legally relevant to the case. A fact is only legally relevant if it impacts the outcome of the case, and you can organize them into the following categories:
Cause of action: This is a single sentence identifying the reason for the case, whether it's for breach of contract, an eviction, foreclosure or other conflicts between people or entities.
Statement of relevant law: This identifies which laws the defendant broke if applicable.
Identification of the opposing parties: This includes the names of the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) in the case and the relationship between them, which can be buyer/seller, employer/employee or tenant/landlord, for example.
Complaint: This summarizes the relevant points of the complaint and the reason for the case's filing.
Court holdings: This explains the procedural history in lower courts regarding this case, if applicable, which may include previous convictions, granting of a writ when a higher court agrees to hear a case and formally acknowledges this to the lower court or other actions.
4. Declare the legal issue
The legal issue is your argument and may include the facts and questions you pose to the court. The legal issue in question should not include details specific to the current case. Instead, you can state the issue as a legal question that someone can answer with a yes or no without ambiguity. If the case involves constitutional rights, you may need to outline all relevant points of interest related to the United States Constitution.
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5. Outline the rule of law
The rule of law states the legal principle(s) upon which the court based its final decision. While a legal opinion may apply more than one legal principle, your objective in this section is to identify the rule of law pertinent to the case and present it in plain terms in a single sentence.
The rule of law is supposed to answer the question you propose in the legal issue section of the case, typically as a restatement of the question in answer form. This section can also include a statement of policy or the reasons behind the laws mentioned here.
6. Explain the holding and reasoning
This section is where you can explain the reasons behind a court decision in legal terms. The specific format in which this section uses the conclusion, rule, explanation, application and conclusion (CREAC) method. This is where you can make sure you've clearly explained all relevant legal rules and rationales.
7. Concurrences and dissents
If a judge hearing a case doesn't wholly agree with the majority decision, they write a dissenting opinion to be included in the case file. If a second judge agrees with the majority decision but not with the reasoning behind it, that judge writes a concurring opinion.
Concurrences and dissents in the casebook are short, so your summary can be even shorter and include the reasons the judges disagreed with the majority opinion. It's possible for a judge to both concur and dissent in part, and when this is the case, you can note it in your brief as "concurrence/dissent."
Tips for writing a case brief
Before writing a case brief, consider the following tips:
Use active voice whenever possible.
Use pronouns sparingly and unambiguously.
Keep it succinct.
Use the correct homophones.
Be careful to avoid nominalization, which includes using verbs as nouns.
Proofread your work multiple times before submitting.
Related: 16 Technical Writing Tips
Case brief example
Here's an example of a case brief for reference:
Title and citation:
Hailey Stone, Plaintiff, v. Forest Co., L.L.C., Defendant
0:00-CV-01011 (C.D. Ill.)
August 3, 2022, Decided
Forest Co, LLC. is a company that offers full-time, hourly non-exempt positions to employees who are below management level. The Plaintiff alleges that Forest Co. violated California state by denying meal and rest break periods (California wage and hour Law) governing: (1) meal periods were not given after five hours during an 8-hour workday, and (2) work was still conducted and required when the plaintiff was clocked-out for meal and rest periods.
Does the plaintiff have sufficient documentation of violation of the California Labor Code Section 512 to hold the LLC responsible in state jurisdiction?
Do violations of the wage and hour law protections against "missed meal periods and denial of pay for time worked during meal periods" indicate that the meal period was not waived by mutual consent of both the plaintiff and defendant?
Rule of law:
The IWC Order 12-2001, Section 11(A) authorizes Plaintiff to bring actions against an LLC when a non-exempt employee has been denied or not provided with an uninterrupted meal break within 5 hours of employable hours.
Susan v. Sumpter and Brothers, Inc., 2012 WL 00099999, at 5-7 (N.D. Ill. September 23, 2012) states that "In any event, section 512 establishes substantive, not procedural, rights that non-exempt employees have the right to 30-minute meal breaks within 5 hours of their 8-hour workday and two 30-minute breaks within a 10-hour workday. Both history and the judgment of Congress suggest that violation of this substantive right is sufficient to constitute a concrete, de facto injury.
Holding and reasoning:
Yes. The Court entered a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, Hailey Stone, against Defendant Forest Co. LLC. The Court awarded civil penalties and statutory damages in favor of the Plaintiff Hailey Stone against Defendant Forest Co. in Counts I, II, III, X of the Labor Code, California Wage and Hour Law in the total sum of $30,000.00.
This Court has jurisdiction to hear Hailey Stone's claims in Counts I-IV pursuant to 00 U.S.C. §§ 000, 00000(a), 1113, and 1112. This Court has jurisdiction to hear the Plaintiff's Labor Law claims in Counts V & VI pursuant to 00 U.S.C. §§ 1113, and 1112; and exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to CLL, 11 U.S.C. § 000(g)(2).
Sulley, J., Commissioner, concurring: IWC Orders except Orders 12, 14, 15 and 16-2001 gave the commission a deliberative reason for examining suspected incipient or policy violations of California wage and hour laws, and provided remedial measures dedicated more to protecting non-exempt employees.
Although the Agency has not ignored its Congressional mandate entirely, we need to build on this foundation, further develop this aspect of our enforcement responsibility and use all the arrows in our jurisdictional quiver to ensure that corporations are fair and just regarding employment.
Miller, Circuit Judge, dissenting: In holding that the 2012 Letter from the Division of Labor standards states that each non-exempt employee can clock out or leave of their own free will. But the pride of our legal system is its evenhandedness and fairness to all who come before it.
Plus the issue here is not whether the Commission can regulate California wage and hour laws. It is only whether the Commission must own up to the regulatory actions it has set in motion, and whether those who are told to close up shop and discharge their employees have entitlement first to a day in court.
In my view, if the law requires us to treat the 2012 Division Letter and its business-ending consequences as just some informal, take-it-or-leave-it staff suggestion, the law is being stingy with reality. I respectfully dissent.
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