August 17, 2016

How to Read a Law School Casebook

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Hello lovelies! So I'm sure lots of you have been sitting for hours on end at your orientation listening to some professor or academic advisor or dean talk about how to read for class. That's fine and all, but I thought I'd give you a more peer-to-peer perspective. 

The reason why I decided to write this post is because I sat by one of my friends during orientation when they went over how to write a brief, but then that evening she started to get frustrated because she still felt like she was doing something wrong. My first instinct was to pull up that same case on Quimbee and have her see what their brief said. This only confused her more so when I went to help her again, I realized that all of her confusion was because she wasn't reading the case the correct way.

TL;DR, I hope this post helps you better understand how to read a case so that you know what's going on and what to put in your brief.

So probably your school has told you that you need to brief or make an IRAC about your case. That's great, but you need to know where to find this information in the case!

Procedural History and Facts

Ok so this can be tricky to separate. First things first, find in your case where there is a capital name followed by a j, like BOYD, J. (FYI: j stands for judge or justice). Anything BEFORE this you can consider a prologue to the case. This before section should never be in your holding or reasoning. This is background info that the authors of your casebook had to include so you'd know what was going on in the actual excerpts from the case. Usually this is where you can find the history and facts. But also to be tricky sometimes they discuss the history and the facts later on throughout the case so your author didn't need to talk about it here.

Procedural History is this:

  • Trial Court 
    • who sued who and under what legal theory (why)
      • ex. Joe sues Dave for battery
      • NOT Joe sues Dave because Dave beat him with a bat (these are the facts)
    • who won and why
  • If the case was appealed already, then repeat the above information again for the 2nd trial
That's pretty much all the procedural history will be. Most of the rest that you'll want to put here are actually facts. People in class will always blab too much on the facts and get cut off my an annoyed professor during the first weeks. Be better than them and cut to the chase. See how above all I had to say was Dave beat Joe with a bat? I didn't have to go on to describe irrelevant details like where they were or what kind of bat it was or list all of Joe's injuries. 

What's tricky at first is deciding what is relevant and what is not. The easiest way to do this is fill in your facts for your brief last. If the whole case was whether Dave can be held liable because he is a minor, then yes their ages matter. If the case centered on Joe's wife being emotionally damaged from watching the beating first hand, then yes who was there matters. But if the case is about whether or not Dave actually even touched Joe, then their ages and the audience does not matter. If you don't mention a fact that your professor wanted from you, he'll ask you about it and then you can talk about it. Don't feel like leaving out details makes it seem like you're unprepared!


Ok now after the BOYD, J., this is where the actual case is. As you're reading a case, keep an eye out for the term "whether." This is usually a good indication that the judge is about to state the issue. An example of this is "the court must decide whether the defendant either willingly or knowingly violated the statute."

What the issue is NOT is should the plaintiff win/did the previous court err in their finding.  Sounds obvious but on my first day people actually raised their hands and confidently stated that that was the issue.

If you ever read the case and cannot for the love of God decide what they're even debating on, then again leave this blank and come back when you've finished with the holding and reasoning. The holding will be the answer to the question so by logic if you know the answer you should be able to figure out the question. 

An example of this would be if the judge says that the court is ruling in the defendant's favor because he did not willingly trespass. In this case, the issue might be whether or not the defendant trespassed.


The rule can also be tricky to find because sometimes the judge just doesn't say it outright (which would be black letter law) so you have to infer what the rule is. Typically if a case doesn't state the rule, then your professor will ask about that during the Socratic Method

Let me take a quick detour to explain the difference between a rule and elements.

Rule: $10 pizza special
Elements: 1.medium sized pizzas only topping pizzas only 3.carryout pizzas only

In your brief, the $10 pizza special would go in the Rule section and the elements would go in the Analysis section. This is because the reasoning for why the rule applies is that the elements are met. But when it comes time to make your outline, both the rules and the elements should be included.


Lol just explained that! Legal analysis is fairly easy to find and put in your brief. If all else fails just read the verdict and ask yourself either how the judge came to that answer or why he did. 

What you need to do when you come to this part is pay attention. You know what where your grades are gonna come from on your finals? YOUR ABILITY TO ANALYZE DA LAW. When I judge says we rule with A because of... rule B... elements C, D, E of rule B are met...  possible exceptions F, G, H don't apply because... so rule B applies here...That is a fantastic essay answer!! 

I'm not saying kill yourself and memorize judge's analysis, but I am saying don't skim through this just because it's an easy part of your brief. If you get in the habit of noting how and/or why something happened, you're naturally going to be better on answering your finals.


This would be your holding. If you don't know who won the case then for real don't even show up to class because your professor will be like wtf. It's almost always at the very end but sometimes they'll just start right off the bat and say we overturn the previous court and then dive in to the background, the rule, and the analysis. The holding is the easiest to find and really can be short. As far a (probably) acceptable answer could be for your professor: X wins under Y rule.

After the conclusion you might see like SMITH, J. You can consider this the epilogue to the case. This second judge is either a concurring or a dissenting judge. You'll need to know what they said for class, but usually what they say won't be tested over (unless your professor points out how their opinion is now the law). DO NOT skip this part just because it's after the case. Your professor will burn holes through your face with the look they give you after they realize that you didn't read this. It's still technically part of the case and the author of your book thought it was important enough not to edit out, so read it. 

But also know that this shouldn't be included in your holding or reasoning because it is not the actual case's holding or reasoning. Just remember that prologues/epilogues don't go in the Issue, Reasoning, Analysis, or Conclusion.

Ok I hope this helps! If you're still confused about anything, send me an email and I'll try to help you!


  1. This makes a lot more sense now! Thank you for the clarification :)

    1. Hey Sandra I'm glad it could help you a little! Good luck with the rest of your semester :)