Law Student Voices: A Review of the BriefCase. App

Other posts on this blog have made reference to the importance of briefing cases for class (here and here). Briefing is an important skill for first year students to master early on, if for no other reason than it forces 1Ls to separate elements of a case into a basic conceptual framework. At the same time, to new law students, briefing can often feel like a relic of the past. Until recently, there has not been a modern equivalent to keep tech-savvy Generation Y on the road to success. Enter: BriefCase., an iPad app.

Creator David Lutz, a third-year student at The University of Michigan Law School, has found a way to quickly and easily separate segments of court opinions and documents into a condensed form. BriefCase. is beautifully designed with smooth transitions, a simple interface, and intuitive controls. Folders are available to keep cases and their briefs organized within the app. Highlighting is color-coded to match the various assignable sections (i.e., facts, procedural history, etc.) and is easy to understand. The student (or practitioner) can also add notes, define terms, or search through documents.

BriefCase highlighter

BriefCase highlighted example

While the app is free to download and enjoy the basic functionality, there are a number of paid features available with a yearly subscription fee of $9.99. So why would anyone want to upgrade if you get the gist of the features for free? Simply put, BriefCase. is an entirely different app with a subscription (note: this author has only utilized the free version). From the FAQ, discussing the difference in account type: Premium Users will be assigned a personal @thebriefcaseapp.com address to automatically import cases from their preferred legal research website. They will also be able to sync with Google Drive and Dropbox, share briefs via e-mail and print their work. Free Users will not be able to remove their work from the application and must import cases manually.

In terms of usefulness, the free version only slightly gets to the point of the app. While students can brief cases, those briefs are trapped on your iPad. There are some professors who are radically opposed to technology and refuse to allow students to use it in the classroom. While there are valid concerns (i.e., Facebook, iMessage, shoe shopping), technology is capable of aiding many students in the learning process.

BriefCase final briefIt should be noted that students choosing to brief cases with this app are essentially copy-pasting rather than synthesizing “nuggets” from the bedrock of text. The effectiveness of this method is likely debatable. There are those who would argue that synthesizing is the whole point to briefing. Additionally, the vast majority of law students use a casebook with edited versions rather than downloading full-text opinions. As such, the best use of BriefCase. is either in the context of legal writing assignments or for young (by experience, not age) practitioners open to incorporating new technology into the workplace.

Verdict: try it out, it’s free! The Premium version appears to be leaps and bounds more useful than its free counterpart, but the free version has largely the same functionality. If you can bear to have your brilliant work confined to one device, this app may be worth a shot.

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.

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Filed under General, Law Student Voices, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips, Technology

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