As you proceed through law school, you may start evaluating whether the study habits and techniques you’ve been using are really worthwhile. Case briefing, where you break down each case into categories like procedural history, facts, holding, and analysis, is usually one of the study tasks that students are quick to abandon. Case briefing can be tedious, time-consuming, and the payoff isn’t always obvious or immediate. But case briefing does serve a purpose and for some students the process of summarizing a case and writing out each component of a brief is essential to learning and remembering the information. So before you decide to throw in the towel on case briefing, ask yourself the following questions.
1. How did you do last semester?
Your grades from last semester can tell you a lot about whether your study habits and techniques are working. If you consistently briefed cases throughout the semester and received stellar grades, keep it up. If case briefing served you well, there’s no need to change things up now. On the other hand, if you didn’t invest the effort to complete case briefs and were disappointed in your grades, you may want to consider incorporating briefing into your weekly schedule. Spending a little extra time thinking critically about the cases you’re assigned may help you improve your issues spotting, rule synthesis, and analytical skills.
But what if you briefed each case and still didn’t perform well on final exams? In addition to evaluating other factors that potentially impacted your performance, including the strength of your outlines and whether you completed any practice problems, you should assess whether the briefs you created were accurate. If your case briefs weren’t accurate – meaning you were consistently missing what the case stood for or were confused by the analytical process the court went through – then your focus should be on improving your reading comprehension and critical thinking. If you improve these underlying skills, your case briefing and exam performance should also improve.
2. How much time did you spend briefing cases?
Sometimes case briefing seems anything but brief. Even though briefs are supposed to be short summaries of the cases, writing out each component of a case brief in your own words can actually take a lot of time and effort. It’s definitely important to complete your reading assignments and be prepared for class each day, but at some point, there are diminishing returns to the hours you spend deciphering the readings. If you have to devote a lot of time to completing case briefs – as in more than 3-4 hours per class – you may need to scale down your briefing. As important as it is to be prepared for class, you also want to make sure you have time to devote to other important law school tasks, like outlining, working through practice hypos, and sure, even attending those student org meetings.
3. How helpful were your briefs during class?
Think back to how you felt in class last semester and whether you had to rely on your case briefs when you were called on. If you have a good memory and could fairly easily remember the key points of the reading during class, briefing may not be a necessity for you. On the other hand, if you needed to refer to your briefs frequently when called on or found yourself feeling lost during the class discussion, briefing the cases may be an important step in helping you comprehend and remember the reading. Additionally, consider your learning style and how you best process information. Some students can absorb the material just from reading, but others need to take the extra step of physically writing out the key points in order to truly comprehend the concepts and retain the information.
4. How detail-oriented is your professor?
Every professor has a slightly different approach to the Socratic Method: some will make you struggle through a series of questions even if it’s clear you don’t know the answer, while others will either call on someone else or at least help you get to the point. Additionally, some professors will expect you to have a very detailed understanding of the facts of each case, while others will be more focused on the big picture theories. If you have a particularly tough professor or one that expects you to be able to recite very specific facts from a case,
Every professor has a slightly different approach to the Socratic Method: some will make you struggle through a series of questions even if it’s clear you don’t know the answer, while others will either call on someone else or at least help you get to the point. Additionally, some professors will expect you to have a very detailed understanding of the facts of each case, while others will be more focused on the big picture theories. If you have a particularly tough professor or one that expects you to be able to recite very specific facts from a case, briefing will help you be more prepared for those classes. But if your professor is less detail-oriented and less exacting, creating separate case briefs probably isn’t the most efficient use of your time.
If you’ve realized that you’re a student who needs to go through the case briefing process to help you understand the concepts and/or be fully prepared for class, great. Keep doing what works for you! But if you’ve realized that case briefing isn’t the best use of your time, it may be time to replace this process with something more efficient. Rather than completely abandoning the case briefing process, try making short margin notes as you read or only writing out the one or two key points from a case. Writing out full case briefs may not be feasible or valuable to you anymore, but staying engaged with the reading and being prepared for class will always be worthwhile.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How to Brief a Case in Law School
- 1L Question of the Day: Do I Really Have to Read the Cases?
- How Many Times Should You Read a Case in Law School?
- Podcast Episode 1: Mindset – The Key to Success in Law School?
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