Briefing a Case
Provided to the students of GVPT331 on 2023-02-07 by Prof. Michael Spivey
BRIEFING A CASE: IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion)
Summarize the key facts of the case. Highlight the determinative facts of a case, i.e., those that make a difference in the outcome. Your goal here is to be able to tell the story of the case without missing any pertinent information but also not including too many extraneous facts either. It is not always obvious which facts are determinative and sometimes the judges/justices themselves disagree. So focus on those facts that are ambiguous or subject to dispute. Above all, make sure you have clearly marked the parties’ names and positions in the case (Plaintiff/Defendant or Appellee/Appellant).
2. Procedural History:
Record what has happened procedurally in the case up until this point. Make sure you know what court rendered the decision. Is it a state court? Federal court? Trial court? Appeals court? Supreme Court? Key motions should be noted—especially if the decision involves an interlocutory appeal. If the decision is by a trial court, verdicts or judgments should also be noted.
3. Issue Presented:
Formulate the main issue or issues in the case in the form of questions, preferably with a yes or no answer, which will help you more clearly state the holding in the next section of the case brief.
The holding should directly respond to the question in the Issue Presented, begin with “yes” or “no,” and elaborate with “because…” from there. If the opinion says “We hold…” that’s the holding; some holdings aren’t so easy to pinpoint, though, so look for the lines in the opinion that answer your Issue Presented question.
5. Rule of Law:
In some cases this will be clearer than others, but basically you want to identify the principle of law on which the judge or justice is basing the resolution of the case. This might be a statutory provision, a constitutional provision, a regulation or a principal of law from precedent (i.e. a previous case or cases).
This is the most important part of your brief as it describes why the court ruled the way it did; some law professors dwell on facts more than others, some more on procedural history, but all spend the most time on the court’s reasoning as it combines all parts of the case rolled in one, describing the application of the rule of law to the facts of the case, often citing other court’s opinions and reasoning or public policy considerations in order to answer the issue presented. This part of your brief traces the court’s reasoning step by step, so be sure that you record it without gaps in logic as well.
7. Concurring/Dissenting Opinion:
Pinpoint the concurring or dissenting judge’s/justice’s main point of contention with the majority opinion and rationale. Why and how do concurring and dissenting judges/justices disagree with the majority?
8. Commentary (Optional):
You might also want to add a brief commentary on the case. Did the case overrule a previous case? Did the case establish a new and important rule of law? Was the case later overturned? (You won’t know this from reading only the case but commentary on the case will mention it.)
There is no set length for a good case brief; the length will depend upon the complexity of the case, but shorter is generally better than longer. You don’t want to just rewrite the case. You want to extract key elements of law from the case. In short, you want to be able to look at your case brief at a later time and know immediately what the case was about.