R.E. Walton, Prof. Department of Philosophy University of Montana
A student brief is a case abstract orprecis. It is a summary of the essential features of a case which are of interest to us, as determined by the purposes of the course. Our briefs therefore differ somewhat from those customarily prepared by law students.
A brief consist of six parts: (1) the HEADER, including the name of the case, the jurisdiction and the date of the decision; (2) the OBJECT; (3) the ISSUE; (4) the RESULT; (5) the FACTS; and (6) the REASONING. Each of these is explained below.
HEADER: On the left side at the top of your paper you should type the name of the case; e.g., Thomas Haslem v. William A. Lockwood. At the right side of the paper, and on the same line as the name, type the jurisdiction (the court) and the date; e.g., Conn. Sup. Ct., 1871.
Below the header comes the body of the brief, broken into five parts, each labelled by typing its name in the left margin. Thus, down the left side of the page one should see OBJECT, ISSUE, RESULT, FACTS and REASONING. The appearance of the remainder of this document gives you an idea of what the body of your brief should look like.
OBJECT: What is the court being asked to do from the perspective of the party making the appeal? Perhaps it must decide whether to issue a writ of habeas corpus. In fact, the court will usually be reviewing a trial court's judgment for error, but what the appelant wants is that the court set aside the trial court's judgment for error of some kind. The court might be considering the constitutionality of a statute; the appelant wants the statute declared unsconstitutional. State succinctly what the court has been asked to do in one sentence: e.g., "To set aside the trial court's judgment for error and order a new trial." "To declare a statute unconstitutional."
ISSUE: What is the basic question presented to the court? Ordinarily, the issue will involve something fairly specific in the law, and it will always involve a specific act or state of affairs. The general form of the issue will then be, Does this point of law forbid (require, or permit) this act, or state of affairs? The issue should be stated as one question, even though it may sometimes be a rather complicated sentence. For example: Does the Montana open meetings statute require the Board of Regents to permit reporters to be present when university or college presidents are evaluated, even though the statute says that meetings in which personnel matters are discussed may be closed for the protection of the privacy of the individuals involved?
RESULT: The result statement consists of two parts: first, simply answer the ISSUE question with a "yes" or "no," then give the main reason the court used to arrive at the result. For example: No; the privacy of university or college presidents must be protected, even though they are public figures.
FACTS: Here simply list the relevant facts making up the context for the case. The court will usually do a pretty good job of this for you, as J. Park does in Haslem v. Lockwood, paragraphs 2-4, for example. You must condense this material, however. The key idea is relevance; for each fact mentioned by the court ask yourself whether it really figures in the decision, or not--if not, omit it. The legal history of the case ordinarily is not important. N.B.: A "fact" in the broadest sense is whatever both parties in the dispute agree upon.
REASONING: Recapitulating the court's reasoning is the most difficult part of the brief writing job. You must discover the argument by which the court reached its result, and state it clearly and succinctly. Remember that the result is the argument's conclusion. Thus, the end of the reasoning section points back to the result statement. Most importantly, remember that the reasoning is an intrinsic and essential part of a court's decision; it is in many respects the decision's heart.
N.B.: The court's reasoning will rely on the facts in the case (more or less), but this does not make the facts part of the reasoning. The reasoning represents the court's construction of the facts in the light of the relevant law.
One final point: Throughout your brief write as the court in the case you are briefing, not about the court; i.e., imagine that you are the judge and you have chosen to set out your decision in the form of this brief (you are a very tidy judge!). Thus, don't say, "The court decided that a new trial must be granted..." Say, "A new trial must be held because..."