Briefing a case means exactly how it sounds. When a law student briefs a case, he breaks a legal case down into a short form of its component parts. Briefing cases allows students to better understand legal materials, and it gives the student the ability to quickly discuss the case when called on in class.
Find the facts. The facts of the case usually come at the beginning of the case. Supreme Court cases will usually include a small summary before starting with the facts. The facts will read like a narrative of what happened before the case was brought to court. When sifting through the facts, make sure you keep the parties straight. Know who the plaintiff and defendant are. You should only extract the facts that are legally relevant to the issue of the case.
Find the procedural history. If you are a reading a case in class, the case has reached the appellate level. Usually only cases being appealed are recorded. The procedural history will be the history of what happened in all courts prior to reaching this level of appeal.
Spot the issue. The issue is the question the court is asked to answer. It may be written in the form of a question or begin with the word “whether.” Either way, the case makes clear that there is a decision to be made. Sometimes a case will involve more than one question or issue.
Find the rule and the reasoning. After the question has been asked, the tone of the case will switch to the point of view of the judge. The judge will consider the question asked and then cite case law, a statute, a regulation or some other legal principle in forming an answer. In essence, this will be the rule of law the judge uses to come up with his answer. The judge will give his reasoning for why he is ruling the way he is ruling. He will apply the rule of law to the facts of the case at hand.
Locate the holding. The holding normally comes at the end of the case. The holding will be the judge’s answer to the issue. The holding will usually give a short statement of the reason for the judge’s ruling, and this will usually be accompanied with a “yes” or a “no.” If the judge decides that a lower court has made a mistake, there may be a holding reading, “Reverse and remand.”
You should read the entire case before beginning a brief.
You may not get it right on the first few tries, but with practice you will learn how to correctly brief a case.