If you’ve been keeping up with this blog series, you probably already know that in law school professors teach using the Case Method. This means that the days of you coming to class hungover or tired, expecting to be spoon-fed information by lecture, are over. Instead, you will be expected to read (and brief!) your assigned cases (judicial opinions) before every class. Then, using the Case Method, your professor will guide a student-led discussion that distills each case down to a fine point of law; subsequent cases you read will build upon the law that you’ve already learned.
Given this pedagogy, and the importance of analyzing your assigned cases, it’s no wonder why the very first lecture we give during the Live Law Preview week covers Case Briefing & Case Law Analysis. The purpose of this lecture is to train students on the proper way to dissect cases and then brief them in order to best follow (and contribute to) the classroom discussion.
Despite the importance of case briefing and case law analysis, every summer students ask whether the “briefing” step is really necessary. Invariably, they had a friend or sibling who already completed the 1L year advise them against briefing — calling it “a waste of time.”
You see, most law students view briefing as something they have to do in order to not look like a fool if they get called on in class. In their minds, the written case brief is simply a crutch they can use in the event they end up in the “hot seat” for the day. If that were indeed the only purpose behind case briefing, then I would agree that briefing cases after you get called on (assuming you don’t get called on again) would be a waste of time. However, I’m hear to tell you that’s not the case.
The usefulness of case briefing extends far beyond daily class preparation
First of all, it’s a time saver. Assuming you do your daily readings, if you don’t prepare a case brief then the only other real option is “book briefing” where you highlight and write margin notes in your casebook. However, when you are preparing your course outlines and exam-prep materials, you’ll want to reference the rules of law/fact scenarios of the cases you read. Absent a 1-page case brief that summarizes the court’s analysis, you’ll need to go back and re-read your cases again later in the semester. Good luck with that strategy. A good case brief guarantees that you’ll read your cases once, and only once.
Second, case briefing is the very first step in the outlining process. Once you’ve gone about two months into the semester, you’ll need to create an outline for each of your courses. During the Outlining & Exam-Prep lecture, we show you how the most successful law students use their case briefs as the foundation of their course outlines.
Look, in law school time is a hot commodity and you can’t waste it. Briefing your cases throughout the year will make sure you are not only working hard, but working smart. Establishing a study routine that incorporates case briefing ensures that you’ll be working efficiently from the very beginning of the year.