Legal (Case) Brief


What is a Case Brief?

A case brief is a condensed, concise outline-form summary of a court opinion. Hence, the term “brief.. In other words, a case brief boils down a court opinion to the key elements and discusses the essence of the court’s opinion. These basic elements are the facts of the case, the particular legal issue that is at question in the case, the specific legal rule of law that is applicable to the case, the application of that rule of law to the facts of the case, and then the court’s holding/conclusion.


Model Case Brief Template


1)      Case: Name of the case, (and year of the decision).


2)      Facts: Who are the parties to the case or lawsuit, what is their dispute, and how did they get to the appellate or Supreme Court? In your own words, only include the few important facts necessary to understand the case; e.g. the time of day a defendant was arrested is usually not important, etc.


3)      Issue: What is the basic legal question or constitutional issue regarding what specific provision of law that is to be decided in the case?


4)      Holding: What is the majority’s basic answer to the basic legal question in the case.


***Majority Opinion Reasoning: What is the majority’s explanation why it reached its judgment? (The reasoning simply consists of two things: the RULE (law) and the APPLICATION of the rule to the facts of the case):


A.    Rule: What rule of law is announced in the case? A court first must announce a specific controlling principle of law (e.g. the court's interpretation of a constitutional provision, NOT the constitutional provision itself!) that applies to the issue in the case.

B.     Application: How does the rule of law specifically apply given the specific facts of the case at issue? In other words, how does the law apply to this case?


5)      Dissenting Opinion(s) Reasoning: What is the reasoning of each separate dissent (justices who disagreed with both the majority’s holding and its reasoning)? How do they differ in their proposed rule or application (or both)?