What Is a Case Brief? - Definition, Format & Examples

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what a case brief is, how to format these documents, and examine several examples. When you are done with this lesson, you will have a thorough understanding of how case briefs can help explain a legal opinion.

Definition

If you have ever known anyone who attended law school, that person can tell you the sheer terror that can come from being selected to 'brief' a case aloud in front of a large classroom of colleagues and a picky professor - a professor who may interject with difficult questions about the case at any moment. This is known as the Socratic method, which is one way of teaching in American law schools.

In order to organize one's lessons, case briefs are utilized. A case brief is a written document which outlines and condenses a legal case, or a legal opinion. This legal opinion is written by a judge. The case brief is sometimes described as a way to take notes, but the brief has a more formal format. Primarily, the case brief is utilized in the classroom setting by law students, but the format can also carry over into real-world practice by lawyers and judges.

Format

While there is no one specific way to format your case brief, the format for a case brief is typically referred to as 'IRAC.' This translates to issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion. Let's break these steps down. Initially, after reading a case, you must identify the central legal issue in the matter. Thereafter, you determine how the court determined the matter. This is known as the rule of law. The rule of law is the black letter of the law the court used to make its decision. Next, you perform an analysis of the issue in conjunction with the rule; in other words, you analyze how the court reached its determination and identify the court's reasoning. Finally, you conclude by indicating what the outcome of the case was and which side won.

Examples

Let's take a sample case and perform the IRAC case brief method. Imagine there is a case which deals with a battery, which is the unlawful, unwanted touching of another person. Imagine that the case indicates that Person A smacked Person B in the head during a heated argument. Person A claims he only lightly touched Person B's hair and did not actually hit Person B's head. The case also says that the rule of law states that a battery in that jurisdiction includes all unwanted touching; it does not exclude any particular body parts and types of touching. The court rules for Person B on the grounds that it is battery.

Now you must put the case in IRAC form. First, you would identify the issue. The issue here is whether touching someone's hair constitutes battery. Then, you would determine the rule of law. The rule of law states that all unwanted touching constitutes battery. For analysis, the court reasoned that since there are no exclusions, the mere touch of another person's hair is included in the definition of battery. To conclude, the court rules in favor of Person B, because there was an incident of battery.

Let's look at a second example. Imagine you read a case where a man locked a child in a car in hot weather, and the child became ill. The parents of the child sued the man, and one of the charges is for false imprisonment. False imprisonment involves the unlawful detainment of a person against his or her will. The court decision includes this rule of law and discusses how the child was too young to use the door locks and was trapped. The court rules in favor of the parents of the child.

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