Over the past several days, we have explored how to read and brief cases for your law school classes. I’ve explained the various components that make up a judicial opinion, and as well as the various types of judicial opinions you may encounter in your reading. Today, I want to focus on how you make the case brief yours—how you can personalize the case brief and use it to prepare for class by drawing from your learning preferences.
Case Brief Formats: The first way to customize your case brief is to make a conscious choice about its format. Your learning preferences may influence your formatting choices. For example, some students may prefer a more traditional case brief format, with Roman numerals, bullet points, or bolded or underlined headings and subheadings. In contrast, you may color-code different parts of your case brief, draw diagrams, or create mind maps. Most students draw from a variety of these approaches, rather than settling on one standard format for all situations.
You also want to think about how you will use the case brief in the future. Although one student may prefer to handwrite their case briefs, other students find that an electronic copy of their brief allows for the insertion of class notes and makes it easier to transition to outlining later. Some students create two columns on each page—one column with the case brief information, and the other column for taking notes in class. There is no one way to approach your case brief—ultimately, you must decide what works best for you.
Using Your Case Brief to Prepare for Class: Even after you’ve created your case brief, you may use it to prepare for class in other ways. Once again, your study preferences can come in handy. For example, you may find it helpful to talk through your case brief with other students prior to class. Some students even go so far as acting out parts of the case or even acting out the Socratic Method experience they expect to have in class, having other students quiz them about the case. (In fact, you may find that practicing your responses to Socratic questions may reduce your anxiety about being called on in class!)
Experiment with the form of your case brief in the first few weeks of law school, and see what works best for you. Law students often have assumptions about what format they should use, but as they go through the semester they may find that another approach works better. Be flexible and figure out what seems most helpful both during class and as you continue studying the topic later after class has ended.