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What is a Case Brief?

By Renee Booker
Updated May 16, 2024
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A case brief is a document written by a party to a legal case describing the case at hand and arguing his or her position. The purpose of the case brief is to inform the court of the facts of the case, recite the law as it applies, and convince the court why it should find in favor of the party submitting the brief. Both criminal and civil law make use of case briefs. All cases at the appellate level and above require a case brief; however, lower courts also make use of briefs upon occasion.

Different methods or formats for writing a case brief may be used depending on the jurisdiction or court. The Issue, Rule, Argument, Conclusion (IRAC) method is a popular format. The IRAC method produces a concise case brief that allows the court to understand the issues and reach a conclusion.

The issue at hand is generally the first section of a case brief. In this section, the facts of the case are recounted for the reviewing court. This is not intended to be an opportunity to make an argument or to include controversial facts. The brief will then present the issue that those facts present to the court. For instance, in a criminal case, the issue section might explain how the police searched a home and then end with stating that the issue is whether or not the search violated the defendant's constitutional rights.

The rule section will include a thorough explanation of the case law to date that potentially applies to the issue at hand. While a party does not want to include irrelevant or omit relevant case law, a party clearly wants to include those favoring his or her argument. The rule section may also include a brief discussion of how the courts or justices decided the case law presented.

The argument section of a case brief will be the party's chance to apply the case law to the facts. In this section, the author of the brief wants to use the available precedents to persuade the court to find in his or her favor. In most cases, there will not be a previous case that is precisely the same as the instant case, so the author must draw analogies and point out similarities or differences that work to his or her favor. In the conclusion, the author will bring everything to a close and directly ask the court to find in his or her favor.

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Discussion Comments

By Monika — On Feb 17, 2012

@JessicaLynn - That's interesting. Somehow I was under the impression that lawyers wrote their own case briefs. I know I have a few friends who are in law school that have had to do a ton of law school case briefs. Maybe it's one of those things you need to know how to do to be a lawyer, and then you get to delegate it to someone else?

Anyway, I don't envy the judges that have to sit around reading these documents all day long. It sounds pretty tedious to me.

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 17, 2012

@ceilingcat - "Legalese" is pretty hard to understand if you're not in the field. My mom used to be a paralegal, so I always get her to read over any contracts I'm thinking about signing. She actually knows what all those terms mean!

In fact, she used to use them all the time. As a paralegal, you have to know how to write a case brief, because it's a big part of your job. I know at the office my mom worked, most of the briefs were written by paralegals, who also did a lot of the research. Then the lawyers checked the briefs for correctness before using them.

By ceilingcat — On Feb 16, 2012

I took an introductory law class when I was in college. I got to take a look at a sample case brief a few times, and let me tell you, they are not easy for a lay person to understand. Most case briefs are written in serious "legalese," and if you don't know the terms, you have no hope of understand what's going on in the brief.

On the other hand, if you do understand the terms, case briefs are very useful. Since most of them are laid out the same way, it's easy to read through a brief and get the gist of whatever case you're dealing with.

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