Better Case Briefing
Here are some tips for avoiding common mistakes in briefing your cases:
- Think about the pattern of your professor’s typical class. What questions does your professor usually ask about the cases? In reading and briefing the cases, use these questions as a guide.
- At the end of reading, spend time analyzing the case as a whole before you write your brief. Why did you ultimately need to read the case? What did it teach you about the major topic you are discussing in class?
- Most professors use hypotheticals with changed facts to get students to think about applying the law in situations that are different from the case. If your professor does so, then spend some time thinking about how variations of the facts would change the outcome. Include your thoughts at the end of your brief.
- Include in your brief the essentials, not everything in the case.
- Synthesize cases on the same sub-topic after you read them. Why did you have to read each case? How are the cases in the series similar or different? How does each case fit into the sub-topic and larger topic? Include the synthesis insights in your brief.
- Use bullet points, numbered lists, abbreviations, and symbols to save time in writing your briefs. Use phrases instead of sentences when possible. Avoid including long quotes from the case in your briefs.
- Try to put the brief into your own words. Do not look at the language of the opinion to write your brief if at all possible. If you cannot put the gist of the case into your own words, then you did not understand the case.
- Remember that briefs are usually for your eyes only. Therefore, brief in a method that is most useful to you. You may need to vary your briefing for different professors’ classes.
- Recognize that your professor may have a different slant on a case than the casebook editor, a study aid, or editorial notes from a case reporter. If you have a pattern of missing your professor’s perspective, ask your professor for some guidance.
- Use canned briefs only to check your own briefs. You need to learn the legal analysis skills yourself rather than depend on a canned brief. Canned briefs can be wrong, may not cover all of the points in the case, or may miss your professor’s view of the case.
Anxiety over being called on in class
I vividly remember the first time I was called on in law school. It was Contracts class. I do not remember anything about it other than which class it was, and the fact that my anxiety was so sky-rocket high, that it seemed like I was called on for the entire class. The reality? He probably asked me two questions at the most.
But the anxiety of being called on in class and the stress over “sounding stupid” in class can take on a life of its own and literally take over your purpose in preparing for class. Now that almost all of you have been called on in at least one of your classes, remember this: you survived. Let go of the anxiety about being called on in class. Replace as your purpose for preparing for class learning the meaning of the subject matter.
Here are some tips to help you become more confident in class:
- After reading and briefing (or taking notes if material other than cases is assigned), take a few minutes to synthesize your reading. Then out loud explain the reading to an empty chair, your pet, or an understanding friend. Think of the professor’s usual questions and answer them out loud. You can practice your answers and gain confidence by this recitation step.
- When the professor asks a question in class, answer silently in your head. Then compare your answer to what another student says. Listen to the professor’s feedback. You will probably find that you would have answered the question well. Again, your self-confidence should get a boost from this exercise.
- Gain additional practice voicing your opinions, questions, and answers by talking in your study group more than usual, talking with a classmate about the material, participating in student organization meetings, or asking the professor questions in office hours. The more you talk, the less apprehensive you will be.