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How to write a case brief for law school: Excerpt reproduced from Introduction to the Study of Law: Cases and Materials ,

Third edition (lexisnexis 2009) by michael makdisi & john makdisi.


The previous section described the parts of a case in order to make it easier to read and identify the pertinent information that you will use to create your briefs. This section will describe the parts of a brief in order to give you an idea about what a brief is, what is helpful to include in a brief, and what purpose it serves. Case briefs are a necessary study aid in law school that helps to encapsulate and analyze the mountainous mass of material that law students must digest. The case brief represents a final product after reading a case, rereading it, taking it apart, and putting it back together again. In addition to its function as a tool for self-instruction and referencing, the case brief also provides a valuable “cheat sheet” for class participation.

Who will read your brief? Most professors will espouse the value of briefing but will never ask to see that you have, in fact, briefed. As a practicing lawyer, your client doesn’t care if you brief, so long as you win the case. The judges certainly don’t care if you brief, so long as you competently practice the law. You are the person that the brief will serve! Keep this in mind when deciding what elements to include as part of your brief and when deciding what information to include under those elements.

What are the elements of a brief? Different people will tell you to include different things in your brief. Most likely, upon entering law school, this will happen with one or more of your instructors. While opinions may vary, four elements that are essential to any useful brief are the following:

(a) Facts (name of the case and its parties, what happened factually and procedurally, and the judgment)

(b) Issues (what is in dispute)

(c) Holding (the applied rule of law)

(d) Rationale (reasons for the holding)

If you include nothing but these four elements, you should have everything you need in order to recall effectively the information from the case during class or several months later when studying for exams.

Because briefs are made for yourself, you may want to include other elements that expand the four elements listed above. Depending on the case, the inclusion of additional elements may be useful. For example, a case that has a long and important section expounding dicta might call for a separate section in your brief labeled: Dicta. Whatever elements you decide to include, however, remember that the brief is a tool intended for personal use. To the extent that more elements will help with organization and use of the brief, include them. On the other hand, if you find that having more elements makes your brief cumbersome and hard to use, cut back on the number of elements. At a minimum, however, make sure you include the four elements listed above.

Elements that you may want to consider including in addition to the four basic elements are:

(e) Dicta (commentary about the decision that was not the basis for the decision)

(f) Dissent (if a valuable dissenting opinion exits, the dissent’s opinion)

(g) Party’s Arguments (each party’s opposing argument concerning the ultimate issue)

(h) Comments (personal commentary)

Personal comments can be useful if you have a thought that does not fit elsewhere. In the personal experience of one of the authors, this element was used to label cases as specific kinds (e.g., as a case of vicarious liability) or make mental notes about what he found peculiar or puzzling about cases. This element allowed him to release his thoughts (without losing them) so that he could move on to other cases.

In addition to these elements, it may help you to organize your thoughts, as some people do, by dividing Facts into separate elements:

(1) Facts of the case (what actually happened, the controversy)

(2) Procedural History (what events within the court system led to the present case)

(3) Judgment (what the court actually decided)

Procedural History is usually minimal and most of the time irrelevant to the ultimate importance of a case; however, this is not always true. One subject in which Procedure History is virtually always relevant is Civil Procedure.

When describing the Judgment of the case, distinguish it from the Holding. The Judgment is the factual determination by the court, in favor of one party, such as “affirmed,” “reversed,” or “remanded.” In contrast, the Holding is the applied rule of law that serves as the basis for the ultimate judgment.

Remember that the purpose of a brief is to remind you of the important details that make the case significant in terms of the law. It will be a reference tool when you are drilled by a professor and will be a study aid when you prepare for exams. A brief is also like a puzzle piece.

The elements of the brief create the unique shape and colors of the piece, and, when combined with other pieces, the picture of the common law takes form. A well-constructed brief will save you lots of time by removing the need to return to the case to remember the important details and also by making it easier to put together the pieces of the common law puzzle.


So now that you know the basic elements of a brief, what information is important to include under each element? The simple answer is: whatever is relevant. But what parts of a case are relevant? When you read your first few cases, you may think that everything that the judge said was relevant to his ultimate conclusion. Even if this were true, what is relevant for the judge to make his decision is not always relevant for you to include in your brief. Remember, the reason to make a brief is not to persuade the world that the ultimate decision in the case is a sound one, but rather to aid in refreshing your memory concerning the most important parts of the case.

What facts are relevant to include in a brief? You should include the facts that are necessary to remind you of the story. If you forget the story, you will not remember how the law in the case was applied. You should also include the facts that are dispositive to the decision in the case. For instance, if the fact that a car is white is a determining factor in the case, the brief should note that the case involves a white car and not simply a car. To the extent that the procedural history either helps you to remember the case or plays an important role in the ultimate outcome, you should include these facts as well.

What issues and conclusions are relevant to include in a brief? There is usually one main issue on which the court rests its decision. This may seem simple, but the court may talk about multiple issues, and may discuss multiple arguments from both sides of the case. Be sure to distinguish the issues from the arguments made by the parties. The relevant issue or issues, and corresponding conclusions, are the ones for which the court made a final decision and which are binding. The court may discuss intermediate conclusions or issues, but stay focused on the main issue and conclusion which binds future courts.

What rationale is important to include in a brief? This is probably the most difficult aspect of the case to determine. Remember that everything that is discussed may have been relevant to the judge, but it is not necessarily relevant to the rationale of the decision. The goal is to remind yourself of the basic reasoning that the court used to come to its decision and the key factors that made the decision favor one side or the other.

A brief should be brief! Overly long or cumbersome briefs are not very helpful because you will not be able to skim them easily when you review your notes or when the professor drills you. On the other hand, a brief that is too short will be equally unhelpful because it lacks sufficient information to refresh your memory. Try to keep your briefs to one page in length. This will make it easy for you to organize and reference them.

Do not get discouraged. Learning to brief and figuring out exactly what to include will take time and practice. The more you brief, the easier it will become to extract the relevant information.

While a brief is an extremely helpful and important study aid, annotating and highlighting are other tools for breaking down the mass of material in your casebook. The remainder of this section will discuss these different techniques and show how they complement and enhance the briefing process.

Annotating Cases

Many of you probably already read with a pencil or pen, but if you do not, now is the time to get in the habit. Cases are so dense and full of information that you will find yourself spending considerable amounts of time rereading cases to find what you need. An effective way to reduce this time is to annotate the margins of the casebook. Your pencil (or pen) will be one of your best friends while reading a case. It will allow you to mark off the different sections (such as facts, procedural history, or conclusions), thus allowing you to clear your mind of thoughts and providing an invaluable resource when briefing and reviewing.

You might be wondering why annotating is important if you make an adequate, well-constructed brief. By their very nature briefs cannot cover everything in a case. Even with a thorough, well-constructed brief you may want to reference the original case in order to reread dicta that might not have seemed important at the time, to review the complete procedural history or set of facts, or to scour the rationale for a better understanding of the case; annotating makes these tasks easier. Whether you return to a case after a few hours or a few months, annotations will swiftly guide you to the pertinent parts of the case by providing a roadmap of the important sections. Your textual markings and margin notes will refresh your memory and restore specific thoughts you might have had about either the case in general or an individual passage.

Annotations will also remind you of forgotten thoughts and random ideas by providing a medium for personal comments.

In addition to making it easier to review an original case, annotating cases during the first review of a case makes the briefing process easier. With adequate annotations, the important details needed for your brief will be much easier to retrieve. Without annotations, you will likely have difficulty locating the information you seek even in the short cases. It might seem strange that it would be hard to reference a short case, but even a short case will likely take you at least fifteen to twenty-five minutes to read, while longer cases may take as much as thirty minutes to an hour to complete. No matter how long it takes, the dense material of all cases makes it difficult to remember all your thoughts, and trying to locate specific sections of the analysis may feel like you are trying to locate a needle in a haystack. An annotation in the margin, however, will not only swiftly guide you to a pertinent section, but will also refresh the thoughts that you had while reading that section.

When you read a case for the first time, read for the story and for a basic understanding of the dispute, the issues, the rationale, and the decision. As you hit these elements (or what you think are these elements) make a mark in the margins. Your markings can be as simple as “facts” (with a bracket that indicates the relevant part of the paragraph). When you spot an issue, you may simply mark “issue” or instead provide a synopsis in your own words. When a case sparks an idea — write that idea in the margin as well — you never know when a seemingly irrelevant idea might turn into something more.

Finally, when you spot a particularly important part of the text, underline it (or highlight it as described below).

With a basic understanding of the case, and with annotations in the margin, the second read-through of the case should be much easier. You can direct your reading to the most important sections and will have an easier time identifying what is and is not important. Continue rereading the case until you have identified all the relevant information that you need to make your brief, including the issue(s), the facts, the holding, and the relevant parts of the analysis.

Pencil or pen — which is better to use when annotating? Our recommendation is a mechanical pencil. Mechanical pencils make finer markings than regular pencils, and also than ballpoint pens. Although you might think a pencil might smear more than a pen, with its sharp point a mechanical pencil uses very little excess lead and will not smear as much as you might imagine. A mechanical pencil will also give you the freedom to make mistakes without consequences. When you first start annotating, you may think that some passages are more important than they really are, and therefore you may resist the urge to make a mark in order to preserve your book and prevent false guideposts. With a pencil, however, the ability to erase and rewrite removes this problem.


Why highlight? Like annotating, highlighting may seem unimportant if you create thorough, well-constructed briefs, but highlighting directly helps you to brief. It makes cases, especially the more complicated ones, easy to digest, review and use to extract information.

Highlighting takes advantage of colors to provide a uniquely effective method for reviewing and referencing a case. If you prefer a visual approach to learning, you may find highlighting to be a very effective tool.

If annotating and highlighting are so effective, why brief? Because the process of summarizing a case and putting it into your own words within a brief provides an understanding of the law and of the case that you cannot gain through the process of highlighting or annotating.

The process of putting the case into your own words forces you to digest the material, while annotating and highlighting can be accomplished in a much more passive manner.

What should you highlight? Similar to annotating, the best parts of the case to highlight are those that represent the needed information for your brief such as the facts, the issue, the holding and the rationale.

Unlike annotating, highlighting provides an effective way to color code, which makes referring to the case even easier. In addition, Highlighters are particularly useful in marking off entire sections by using brackets. These brackets will allow you to color-code the case without highlighting all the text, leaving the most important phrases untouched for a more detailed highlight marking or underlining.

Highlighting is a personal tool, and therefore should be used to the extent that highlighting helps, but should be modified in a way that makes it personally time efficient and beneficial. For instance, you might combine the use of annotations in the margins with the visual benefit of highlighting the relevant text. You may prefer to underline the relevant text with a pencil, but to use a highlighter to bracket off the different sections of a case. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it works for you, regardless of what others recommend. The techniques in the remainder of this section will describe ways to make full use of your highlighters.

First, buy yourself a set of multi-colored highlighters, with at least four, or perhaps five or six different colors. Yellow, pink, and orange are usually the brightest. Depending on the brand, purple and green can be dark, but still work well. Although blue is a beautiful color, it tends to darken and hide the text.

Therefore we recommend that you save blue for the elements that you rarely highlight.

For each different section of the case, choose a color, and use that color only when highlighting the section of the case designated for that color. Consider using yellow for the text that you tend to highlight most frequently. Because yellow is the brightest, you may be inclined to use yellow for the Conclusions in order to make them stand out the most. If you do this, however, you will exhaust your other colors much faster than yellow and this will require that you purchase an entire set of new highlighters when a single color runs out because colors such as green are not sold separately. If instead you choose to use yellow on a more frequently highlighted section such as the Analysis, when it comes time to replace your yellow marker, you will need only to replace your yellow highlighter individually. In the personal experience on one of the authors, the sections of cases that seemed to demand the most highlighter attention were the

Facts and the Analysis, while the Issues and Holdings demanded the least. Other Considerations and

Procedural History required lots of highlighting in particular cases although not in every case.

Experiment if you must, but try to choose a color scheme early on in the semester and stick with it. That way, when you come back to the first cases of the semester, you will not be confused with multiple color schemes. The basic sections of a case for which you should consider giving a different color are:

• Procedural History

• Issue (and questions presented)

• Holding (and conclusions)

• Analysis (rationale)

• Other Considerations (such as dicta)

Not all of these sections demand a separate color. You may find that combining Facts and Procedural History or Issues and Holdings works best. Furthermore, as mentioned above, some sections may not warrant highlighting in every case (e.g., dicta probably do not need to be highlighted unless they are particularly important). If you decide that a single color is all that you need, then stick to one, but if you find yourself highlighting lots of text from many different sections, reconsider the use of at least a few different colors. Highlighters make text stand out, but only when used appropriately. The use of many colors enables you to highlight more text without reducing the highlighter’s effectiveness. Three to four colors provides decent color variation without the cumbersomeness of handling too many markers.

Once you are comfortable with your color scheme, determining exactly what to highlight still may be difficult. Similar to knowing what to annotate, experience will perfect your highlighting skills. Be careful not to highlight everything, thus ruining your highlighters’ effectiveness; at the same time, do not be afraid to make mistakes.

Now that we have covered the basics of reading, annotating, highlighting, and briefing a case, you are ready to start practicing. Keep the tips and techniques mentioned in this chapter in mind when you tackle the four topics in the remainder of this book. If you have difficultly, refer back to this chapter to help guide you as you master the case method of study and the art of using the common law.

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Every law student and practicing attorney must be able to find, read, analyze, and interpret case law. Under the common law principles of stare decisis, a court must follow the decisions in previous cases on the same legal topic. Therefore, finding cases is essential to finding out what the law is on a particular issue.

This guide will show you how to read a case citation and will set out the sources, both print and online, for finding cases. This guide also covers how to use digests, headnotes, and key numbers to find case law, as well as how to find cases through terms and connectors searching.

To find cases using secondary sources, such as legal encyclopedias or legal treatises, see our Secondary Sources Research Guide . For additional strategies to find cases, like using statutory annotations or citators, see our  Case Law Research Tutorial . Our tutorial also covers how to update cases using citators (Lexis’ Shepard’s tool and Westlaw’s KeyCite).

Basic Case Citation

A case citation is a reference to where a case (also called a  decision  or an  opinion  ) is printed in a book. The citation can also be used to retrieve cases from  Westlaw  and  Lexis . A case citation consists of a volume number, an abbreviation of the title of the book or other item, and a page number.  

The precise format of a case citation depends on a number of factors, including the jurisdiction, court, and type of case. You should review the rest of this section on citing cases (and the relevant rules in  The Bluebook ) before trying to format a case citation for the first time. See our Bluebook Guide for more information.

The basic format of a case citation is as follows:

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This means that the case you would find at page 565 of volume 44 of the  Supreme Court Reporter  (published by West) will be the same case you find on page 1016 of volume 68 of  Lawyers' Edition  (published by Lexis), and both will be the same as the opinion you find in the official government version,  United States Reports . Although the text of the opinion will be identical, the added editorial material will differ with each publisher.

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How to do legal research in 3 steps

Knowing where to start a difficult legal research project can be a challenge. But if you already understand the basics of legal research, the process can be significantly easier — not to mention quicker.

Solid research skills are crucial to crafting a winning argument. So, whether you are a law school student or a seasoned attorney with years of experience, knowing how to perform legal research is important — including where to start and the steps to follow.

What is legal research, and where do I start? 

Black's Law Dictionary defines legal research as “[t]he finding and assembling of authorities that bear on a question of law." But what does that actually mean? It means that legal research is the process you use to identify and find the laws — including statutes, regulations, and court opinions — that apply to the facts of your case.

In most instances, the purpose of legal research is to find support for a specific legal issue or decision. For example, attorneys must conduct legal research if they need court opinions — that is, case law — to back up a legal argument they are making in a motion or brief filed with the court.

Alternatively, lawyers may need legal research to provide clients with accurate legal guidance . In the case of law students, they often use legal research to complete memos and briefs for class. But these are just a few situations in which legal research is necessary.

Why is legal research hard?

Each step — from defining research questions to synthesizing findings — demands critical thinking and rigorous analysis.

1. Identifying the legal issue is not so straightforward. Legal research involves interpreting many legal precedents and theories to justify your questions. Finding the right issue takes time and patience.

2. There's too much to research. Attorneys now face a great deal of case law and statutory material. The sheer volume forces the researcher to be efficient by following a methodology based on a solid foundation of legal knowledge and principles.

3. The law is a fluid doctrine. It changes with time, and staying updated with the latest legal codes, precedents, and statutes means the most resourceful lawyer needs to assess the relevance and importance of new decisions.

Legal research can pose quite a challenge, but professionals can improve it at every stage of the process . 

Step 1: Key questions to ask yourself when starting legal research

Before you begin looking for laws and court opinions, you first need to define the scope of your legal research project. There are several key questions you can use to help do this.

What are the facts?

Always gather the essential facts so you know the “who, what, why, when, where, and how” of your case. Take the time to write everything down, especially since you will likely need to include a statement of facts in an eventual filing or brief anyway. Even if you don't think a fact may be relevant now, write it down because it may be relevant later. These facts will also be helpful when identifying your legal issue.

What is the actual legal issue?

You will never know what to research if you don't know what your legal issue is. Does your client need help collecting money from an insurance company following a car accident involving a negligent driver? How about a criminal case involving excluding evidence found during an alleged illegal stop?

No matter the legal research project, you must identify the relevant legal problem and the outcome or relief sought. This information will guide your research so you can stay focused and on topic.

What is the relevant jurisdiction?

Don't cast your net too wide regarding legal research; you should focus on the relevant jurisdiction. For example, does your case deal with federal or state law? If it is state law, which state? You may find a case in California state court that is precisely on point, but it won't be beneficial if your legal project involves New York law.

Where to start legal research: The library, online, or even AI?

In years past, future attorneys were trained in law school to perform research in the library. But now, you can find almost everything from the library — and more — online. While you can certainly still use the library if you want, you will probably be costing yourself valuable time if you do.

When it comes to online research, some people start with free legal research options , including search engines like Google or Bing. But to ensure your legal research is comprehensive, you will want to use an online research service designed specifically for the law, such as Westlaw . Not only do online solutions like Westlaw have all the legal sources you need, but they also include artificial intelligence research features that help make quick work of your research

Step 2: How to find relevant case law and other primary sources of law

Now that you have gathered the facts and know your legal issue, the next step is knowing what to look for. After all, you will need the law to support your legal argument, whether providing guidance to a client or writing an internal memo, brief, or some other legal document.

But what type of law do you need? The answer: primary sources of law. Some of the more important types of primary law include:

  • Case law, which are court opinions or decisions issued by federal or state courts
  • Statutes, including legislation passed by both the U.S. Congress and state lawmakers
  • Regulations, including those issued by either federal or state agencies
  • Constitutions, both federal and state

Searching for primary sources of law

So, if it's primary law you want, it makes sense to begin searching there first, right? Not so fast. While you will need primary sources of law to support your case, in many instances, it is much easier — and a more efficient use of your time — to begin your search with secondary sources such as practice guides, treatises, and legal articles.

Why? Because secondary sources provide a thorough overview of legal topics, meaning you don't have to start your research from scratch. After secondary sources, you can move on to primary sources of law.

For example, while no two legal research projects are the same, the order in which you will want to search different types of sources may look something like this:

  • Secondary sources . If you are researching a new legal principle or an unfamiliar area of the law, the best place to start is secondary sources, including law journals, practice guides , legal encyclopedias, and treatises. They are a good jumping-off point for legal research since they've already done the work for you. As an added bonus, they can save you additional time since they often identify and cite important statutes and seminal cases.
  • Case law . If you have already found some case law in secondary sources, great, you have something to work with. But if not, don't fret. You can still search for relevant case law in a variety of ways, including running a search in a case law research tool.

Once you find a helpful case, you can use it to find others. For example, in Westlaw, most cases contain headnotes that summarize each of the case's important legal issues. These headnotes are also assigned a Key Number based on the topic associated with that legal issue. So, once you find a good case, you can use the headnotes and Key Numbers within it to quickly find more relevant case law.

  • Statutes and regulations . In many instances, secondary sources and case law list the statutes and regulations relevant to your legal issue. But if you haven't found anything yet, you can still search for statutes and regs online like you do with cases.

Once you know which statute or reg is pertinent to your case, pull up the annotated version on Westlaw. Why the annotated version? Because the annotations will include vital information, such as a list of important cases that cite your statute or reg. Sometimes, these cases are even organized by topic — just one more way to find the case law you need to support your legal argument.

Keep in mind, though, that legal research isn't always a linear process. You may start out going from source to source as outlined above and then find yourself needing to go back to secondary sources once you have a better grasp of the legal issue. In other instances, you may even find the answer you are looking for in a source not listed above, like a sample brief filed with the court by another attorney. Ultimately, you need to go where the information takes you.

Step 3: Make sure you are using ‘good’ law

One of the most important steps with every legal research project is to verify that you are using “good" law — meaning a court hasn't invalidated it or struck it down in some way. After all, it probably won't look good to a judge if you cite a case that has been overruled or use a statute deemed unconstitutional. It doesn't necessarily mean you can never cite these sources; you just need to take a closer look before you do.

The simplest way to find out if something is still good law is to use a legal tool known as a citator, which will show you subsequent cases that have cited your source as well as any negative history, including if it has been overruled, reversed, questioned, or merely differentiated.

For instance, if a case, statute, or regulation has any negative history — and therefore may no longer be good law — KeyCite, the citator on Westlaw, will warn you. Specifically, KeyCite will show a flag or icon at the top of the document, along with a little blurb about the negative history. This alert system allows you to quickly know if there may be anything you need to worry about.

Some examples of these flags and icons include:

  • A red flag on a case warns you it is no longer good for at least one point of law, meaning it may have been overruled or reversed on appeal.
  • A yellow flag on a case warns that it has some negative history but is not expressly overruled or reversed, meaning another court may have criticized it or pointed out the holding was limited to a specific fact pattern.
  • A blue-striped flag on a case warns you that it has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Court of Appeals.
  • The KeyCite Overruling Risk icon on a case warns you that the case may be implicitly undermined because it relies on another case that has been overruled.

Another bonus of using a citator like KeyCite is that it also provides a list of other cases that merely cite your source — it can lead to additional sources you previously didn't know about.

Perseverance is vital when it comes to legal research

Given that legal research is a complex process, it will likely come as no surprise that this guide cannot provide everything you need to know.

There is a reason why there are entire law school courses and countless books focused solely on legal research methodology. In fact, many attorneys will spend their entire careers honing their research skills — and even then, they may not have perfected the process.

So, if you are just beginning, don't get discouraged if you find legal research difficult — almost everyone does at first. With enough time, patience, and dedication, you can master the art of legal research.

Thomson Reuters originally published this article on November 10, 2020.

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How to Shrink Wrap: 11 Steps

13 ways to become a straight a+ student, 3 ways to fix venetian blinds, 3 ways to avoid orange foundation for a flawless look, how to get rid of flesh flies: 15 steps, how to measure your torso: 9 steps, how to fit a cooker hood, 3 ways to write a scheme of work, 3 ways to convert excel to pdf, 3 ways to get rid of a beer belly, how to analyze case law: 11 steps.

how to legal case study

Every law student and legal professional must be adept at case law analysis. Analyzing case law involves understanding the structure, arguments, and reasoning of a judicial opinion or decision. It’s crucial for building your understanding of the law, conducting legal research, and advocating for clients effectively. Here are 11 steps to help you analyze case law like a pro:

1.Acquire relevant case documents: Obtain the full text of the case, including any dissenting or concurring opinions. This information can be found through online databases such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, or government websites.

2.Read the case thoroughly : Understand the facts, procedural history, issues raised, and the holding of the court. Make notes on important points that could influence your analysis.

3.Identify the case parties: Ascertain who the plaintiff and defendant are or who is appealing and being appealed against.

4.Outline the court structure: Understand which court decided the case (e.g., district court, appellate court, or supreme court) as it will impact how much authority a decision holds.

5.Determine jurisdiction and area of law: Identify the jurisdiction in which the decision was made – for example, federal or state – and which area of law it pertains to (e.g., torts, contracts). This will help you grasp if this ruling is within your research scope.

6.Review procedural history: Know how the case arrived at its present stage – through appeal or trial – as it provides context on whether precedents have been set already.

7.Identify legal issues raised: Examine carefully what legal questions were addressed by the judges in their decision-making process.

8.Dissect court’s reasoning and analysis : Understand how judges reached their conclusions by breaking down their argumentative reasoning and precedent reliance.

9.Assess majority vs dissenting opinions: To gain a full perspective on the case, study any dissenting or concurring opinions, which may offer alternative interpretations of the law.

10.Evaluate the case significance: Determine the case’s impact on the legal landscape, whether it establishes a new precedent or follows well-established principles.

11.Reflect on application to future cases : Finally, consider how this ruling might apply to future or similar cases in analogous situations.

In conclusion, effective case law analysis is an essential skill for legal professionals. Understanding each step of the process will help you hone your analytical abilities and stay current with the evolving legal landscape. So, next time you come across a significant court ruling, use these 11 steps as your guide to comprehensively analyze the decision.

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Legal Research & Writing Guide

  • Legal Abbreviations
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How to Read a Case

How to brief a case, recommended videos.

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Research Help

Need further assistance email us or make an appointment., email: [email protected], helpful youtube channels.

Streaming Videos

The following online resources offer guidance for reading case law and court decisions.


  • How to Read a Court Decision This guide from Roosevelt University describes the different parts of a court decision.
  • LexisNexis: How to Read a Law School Casebook Features an excerpt from Guide to the Study of Law: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (LexisNexis 2001) by L.H. LaRue.

The following online resources provide useful tips for writing case briefs and outlines.

  • How to Brief a Case Features an excerpt from "How to Study Law and Take Law Exams in a Nutshell" with a step-by-step guide to briefing cases
  • LexisNexis: How to Write a Case Brief Features an excerpt reproduced from Introduction to the Study of Law: Cases and Materials.
  • Case Briefing: The Law School Playbook
  • Case Reading: The Law School Playbook
  • Introduction to Cases / Anatomy of a Case
  • How To Write A Case Brief or Case Outline for Law School (With An Example)
  • How to Read a Case: And Understand What it Means

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Legal Research

  • Statutory Law
  • Regulations
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  • Citing Legal Resources

Case Law Resources

  • Caselaw Access Project The Caselaw Access Project (CAP), maintained by the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab, includes "all official, book-published United States case law — every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States...[including] all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands." As of the publication of this guide, CAP "currently included all volumes published through 2020 with new data releases on a rolling basis at the beginning of each year."
  • CourtListener Court Listener is a free and publicly accessible online platform that provides a collection of legal resources and court documents, including court opinions and case law from various jurisdictions in the United States. It includes PACER data (the RECAP Archive), opinions, or oral argument recordings.
  • FindLaw Caselaw Summaries Archive FindLaw provides a database of case law from the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, as well as several state supreme courts. It includes U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, U.S. Federal Appellate Court Opinions and U.S. State Supreme, Appellate and Trial Court Opinions. Search for case summaries or by jurisdiction.
  • FindLaw Jurisdiction Search FindLaw provides a database of case law from the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, as well as several state supreme courts. It includes U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, U.S. Federal Appellate Court Opinions and U.S. State Supreme, Appellate and Trial Court Opinions. Search for case summaries or by jurisdiction.
  • Google Scholar for Case Law Google Scholar offers an extensive database of state and federal cases, including U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, U.S. Federal District, Appellate, Tax, and Bankruptcy Court Opinions, U.S. State Appellate and Supreme Court Opinions, Scholarly articles, papers, and reports. To get started, select the “case law” radio button, and choose your search terms.
  • Justia Justia offers cases from the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, and U.S. District Courts. Additionally, you may find links to many state supreme court and intermediate courts of appeal cases. Content includes U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, U.S. Federal Appellate & District Court Opinions, Selected U.S. Federal Appellate & District Court dockets and orders and U.S. State Supreme & Appellate Court Opinions.

An interdisciplinary, international, full-text database of over 18,000 sources including newspapers, journals, wire services, newsletters, company reports and SEC filings, case law, government documents, transcripts of broadcasts, and selected reference works.

  • PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) PACER is a nationwide database for accessing federal court documents, including case dockets. It covers U.S. District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Users can search for and access federal case dockets and documents for a fee.
  • Ravel Law Public Case Access "This new Public Case Access site was created as a result of a collaboration between the Harvard Law School Library and Ravel Law. The company supported the library in its work to digitize 40,000 printed volumes of cases, comprised of over forty million pages of court decisions, including original materials from cases that predate the U.S. Constitution."
  • The RECAP Archive Part of CourtListener, RECAP provides access to millions of PACER documents and dockets.

State Courts

  • State Court Websites This page provides a list of various state court system websites by state.
  • Pennsylvania Judiciary Web Portal The Pennsylvania Judiciary Web Portal provides the public with access to various aspects of court information, including appellate courts, common pleas courts and magisterial district court docket sheets; common pleas courts and magisterial district court calendars; and PAePay.
  • Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Opinions

US Supreme Court

  • US Reports he opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States are published officially in the United States Reports.
  • US Reports through HeinOnline
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Writing Effective Legal Case Briefs for Law Students

How to write a case brief, complete with examples.

tl;dr - Case briefs help your understanding of legal concepts and enable you to better prepare for exams. Here are some example case briefs .

As a new law student, one of the essential skills you need to develop is the ability to write effective legal case briefs. A case brief is a concise summary of a legal case that highlights the key issues, legal principles, and holdings of the court. Writing a good case brief can help you better understand the law, prepare for class discussions and exams, and become a more effective legal professional. In this article, we'll explore the key elements of a good legal case brief and provide some tips on how to write one effectively.

Legal case briefs are an essential tool for you as a law student, as they provide a concise and organized summary of a court case. Case brief examples serve as a means for you to understand the facts, issues, and legal principles underlying a court decision, and are crucial in helping you develop analytical and critical thinking skills.

One of the primary reasons why case briefs are important for you is that they help you understand the law in a practical and applied manner. In law school, you study legal principles and concepts in a theoretical sense. However, case briefs provide a means for you to see how these principles are applied in real-world situations. By analyzing and dissecting court decisions, you are able to gain a better understanding of how legal principles and concepts are applied in practice. For example, case brief examples of landmark cases like Marbury v. Madison or Brown v. Board of Education can help you understand the historical and legal significance of these cases.

Understand the Structure of a Legal Case Brief

Before we dive into the details of how to write a good legal case brief, it's important to understand its structure. A typical legal case brief, such as the examples of case briefs available on LSD , includes the following sections:

  • Title and Citation: This section includes the name of the case, the court that decided the case, and the citation (i.e., the reference that identifies where the case is published).
  • Facts: This section provides a brief summary of the key facts of the case, including who the parties are, what they did, and how the case came to court.
  • Issues: This section identifies the legal issues that the court was asked to decide, and focuses on the questions that the court addressed in its decision.
  • Holding: This section summarizes the court's decision on the legal issues presented in the case.
  • Analysis: This section provides an explanation of the court's reasoning in arriving at its holding, including the legal principles and rules that the court relied on.

Focus on the Key Facts and Issues

When writing a case brief, it's important to focus on the key facts and legal issues presented in the case. You should avoid including unnecessary details or information that is not relevant to the legal issues. Instead, focus on the facts and issues that are essential to understanding the court's decision. This is evident in many examples of case briefs written by legal professionals.

Identify the Legal Principles and Rules

In addition to focusing on the key facts and issues, it's important to identify the legal principles and rules that the court relied on in arriving at its decision. This will help you understand the court's reasoning and the legal principles that are relevant to the case. Many examples of case briefs available online also highlight the legal principles and rules that were applied in a particular case.

Use Clear and Concise Language

A good legal case brief should be written in clear and concise language, as seen in examples of case briefs written by legal professionals. You should avoid using legal jargon or technical terms that may be difficult for a layperson to understand. Instead, use plain language that accurately conveys the meaning of the court's decision.

Be Organized and Structured

To make your case brief more effective, it's important to be organized and structured in your writing. Use headings and subheadings to separate different sections of your brief, and make sure that each section flows logically from one to the next. This is evident in many examples of case briefs available online, which are organized and structured in a clear and logical manner.

So, what’s the point?

Developing analytical and critical thinking skills.

Writing case briefs helps you develop analytical and critical thinking skills. By analyzing court decisions and identifying key facts, issues, and legal principles, you are practicing your ability to think critically and to identify relevant legal issues. Case briefs provide a practical way to develop these skills and apply them to real-world legal problems.

To further develop your analytical and critical thinking skills, you can practice writing your own case briefs. Take a recent court decision and write a brief that summarizes the key facts, issues, and legal principles involved. This will help you become more proficient at identifying relevant information and organizing it in a structured manner.

Preparing for Class and Exams

In addition to being a valuable tool for developing analytical skills, case briefs also help you prepare for class discussions and exams. As you read cases and write briefs, you are gaining a deeper understanding of the law and the reasoning behind court decisions. This knowledge will help you participate more effectively in class discussions and will also help you prepare for law school exams.

To get the most out of case briefs when preparing for exams, you can practice writing case briefs for cases that you studied throughout the year, or to hypotheticals from past exams. This will help you apply the analytical skills you've developed to new situations and ensure that you are able to communicate your understanding of legal principles effectively.

In conclusion, case briefs are an essential tool for law students as they provide a practical application of legal principles, help develop analytical and critical thinking skills, and aid in preparing for class discussions and exams. By studying case brief examples, practicing writing your own briefs, and developing a deep understanding of the law in context, you can become a more proficient and effective student and legal professional. For examples, check out LSD's case brief database .

how to legal case study

Tech-focused creator of LSD.Law. I built LSD while applying to law school. I saw unequal access to knowledge and built LSD to level the playing field and help applicants make thoughtful, well-informed decisions in the application process.

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How to Analyze Case Law

Last Updated: January 21, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was written by Jennifer Mueller, JD . Jennifer Mueller is an in-house legal expert at wikiHow. Jennifer reviews, fact-checks, and evaluates wikiHow's legal content to ensure thoroughness and accuracy. She received her JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2006. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 124,583 times.

When you hear the word "law," you may assume the word refers to statutes passed by Congress and state legislatures. But a major portion of American law actually is case law – the rules appellate judges distill from their interpretation of statutes and other sources. Accordingly, much of law school is spent learning how to analyze case law. However, attending law school isn't strictly necessary to acquire this valuable skill. You can teach yourself how to analyze case law, which begins – but doesn't end – with a thorough reading of the court's written opinion.

Summarizing the Facts

Step 1 Read the case.

  • The first time you read through a case, don't worry about trying to understand it. Just read for a sense of what's happening, who the major parties are, and what they want the court to do.
  • Keep in mind that legal opinions aren't written for laypeople, or even for law students or attorneys – they are written for other judges. If you don't understand something (assuming you're not an appellate court judge), there's nothing wrong with that.
  • You may have to go outside the opinion itself and look at other articles about the case, and then come back to it. For example, if you're reading a case that caused quite a stir in the media when it was decided, there will no doubt be newspaper and magazine articles about it. Reading those can help you better understand the court opinion.
  • Many cases have summaries that appear before the case and let you know the basics of what happened, the issue before the court, and how the court resolved that issue. The summary can be helpful, but don't use it as a substitute for an initial read-through of the case.

Step 2 Identify the parties.

  • To make party identification even more confusing, party names may switch sides of the "v." in the case caption depending on who appealed. For example, suppose when a case began, Sally Sunshine sued Marvin Moon. The case's caption would be "Sunshine v. Moon." The trial court found in favor of Ms. Sunshine – but Mr. Moon appealed. The caption then became "Moon v. Sunshine."
  • To continue the example, suppose the appellate court found in favor of Mr. Moon, but Ms. Sunshine appealed that ruling to a higher court. Now the case's caption is "Sunshine v. Moon" again.
  • Since litigants in written opinions typically are only identified by their roles – appellant and appellee, for example – their names may only be mentioned once.

Step 3 Outline the case's procedural history.

  • Since the procedural history determines the role of the litigants, and thus what each of them is called throughout the written opinion, understanding how the case moved through the court system – who sued whom, and who appealed – is paramount to understanding the case.
  • At the same time, you don't need to go into too much detail here. You just need to understand who filed the original lawsuit (which will help you understand the facts of the case), the decision at trial, and who appealed and why.

Step 4 Isolate the relevant facts.

  • At the appellate level, the courts are concerned with legal issues, not questions of fact. So, for example, if you are reading a case that came about as a result of a bar fight, the factual question of whether one party assaulted the other has already been resolved.
  • In many cases, the initial facts that prompted the dispute may be summarized in a sentence or two. Often, what's really important is what happened afterward.
  • Keep in mind that not all judges are the best writers. While you may be tempted to believe a particular fact is important because the judge who wrote the opinion spent several paragraphs discussing it, this is not necessarily the case.
  • As you read more and more cases, particularly if the cases you read are focused on a particular court, you will become familiar with the styles of individual judges. This can make it easier for you to immediately notice when the judge is focusing on facts he or she believes are central to the case's holding.

Identifying the Issue and Decision

Step 1 Determine the legal issue raised by the facts.

  • Essentially, you're looking for what the person who appealed the lower court's ruling wanted to happen, that didn't. To find the issue, you must figure out what that person thought the lower court did wrong, and why.
  • This usually isn't about something as simple as one person believing he should have been awarded more money, or a criminal defendant not wanting to go to jail. That might be part of an appellant's personal motivation, but to have a legitimate appeal you must be able to point to some way that the lower court made a legal error.
  • In many cases, the legal error isn't an obvious error. The lower court may have applied the law correctly – but the appellant is arguing that her case is different from the cases that developed the rule the lower court used, or that the lower court should have used a different rule.
  • Often in Supreme Court cases, there isn't a rule that can be handed down from previous cases and applied in this case, because no court has ever decided a case like this one. In these situations, it's up to the court to figure out how to tackle this new issue, and where it fits in to the long line of American jurisprudence.

Step 2 Phrase the issue as a yes/no question.

  • In some cases, the issue before the court involves multiple yes/no questions, or a follow-up question that is conditional on the answer to the first.
  • This usually happens when a particular factual situation present in the case has never been explored by any other court. The court must first determine whether a particular law applies to that factual situation at all before it can decide how the law applies.
  • For example, suppose a baker has been fined by the local government for creating cupcakes with expletives written in icing. The court may first have to determine whether icing on cupcakes is the sort of speech or expression protected by the First Amendment, before it can reach the real issue of whether the baker's First Amendment rights have been violated.

Step 3 Provide the court's answer to the question.

  • Some judges have a very clear, straightforward writing style, and they'll phrase the issue as a question and answer it directly. However, this isn't usually the case. In most written opinions, you should expect to dig for the question and answer, which you'll have to craft yourself.
  • When more than one question is asked, sometimes the answer to the first takes care of all the others. To look at the earlier cupcake-icing example, if the court had determined that no, icing on cupcakes is not protected by the First Amendment, the second question disappears. You don't have to consider whether the baker's First Amendment rights were violated by the fine, because she didn't have any First Amendment rights in the first place.
  • When the answer is qualified with a "sometimes," any conditional questions that follow likewise will have qualifications. #Note any significant dissents. In many cases, particularly at the Supreme Court level, a justice who disagrees with the majority will issue a dissent. As time passes and court interpretation evolves, a significant dissent may end up being a majority opinion later on when the court reverses or overturns an earlier decision. [12] X Research source
  • There also may be concurrences, which are separate opinions written by justices who agree with the ultimate outcome of the case, but not with the reasoning the majority applied to get there. Often a concurrence can help you understand the majority's reasoning, particularly if it seemed convoluted on first read.
  • Unless you understand where the case you're reading falls in the history and development of that particular area of law, you may not be able to recognize which other opinions are important until you do further research.
  • If you're unsure, it's best to simply note other opinions – be they dissents or concurrences – and the key difference between them and the majority's opinion.
  • Especially if you're reading a Supreme Court case, you also should note which justice authored the dissent or concurrence. As justices leave the court and are replaced, the values and judicial temperament of the majority also can change.
  • A dissent from a decade ago may become a majority opinion tomorrow – often written by the same justice, now carrying the majority where he or she once held a minority view.

Understanding the Reasoning

Step 1 Identify the legal rules used by the court.

  • Make note of the case from which the rule came, although typically it's not necessary for you to go back and read the case itself to understand the rule.
  • However, if a significant portion of the opinion discusses the previous case, you may want to go back and read it as well so you have a better understanding of what the court is talking about.
  • In some opinions (especially those penned by judges with straightforward writing styles), the rule used by the court will follow trigger phrases such as "the rule we apply is" or "we decide this case by applying the rule from" – phrases that alert you the court is about to tell you exactly what rule they used.
  • Most opinions won't be this direct, and require a closer analysis of the language to ascertain the rule the court used. Sometimes you can figure this out by working backwards. Read the court's decision, and then follow the court's train of logic in reverse until you reach the rule.

Step 2 Apply the rule to the facts of the case.

  • The application of a legal precedent to the facts of a case is the heart of legal analysis. This typically is done using similes. Seldom has the exact issue been presented before – to make a decision, the court must determine that this case is like a different case, and therefore the same rule should apply.
  • Keep in mind that, especially if you're analyzing a Supreme Court case, the court wouldn't have accepted that case on appeal if it didn't present a new issue that had not already been decided in an earlier case.
  • For this reason, there likely won't be a precedent that is entirely on point, or a previous case with the same fact pattern in which the same issue was raised and decided.
  • Rather, the court must compare cases to find a rule that applies closely and is based on a similar situation that is analogous to the dispute presented.

Step 3 Highlight facts the court found most important.

  • Sometimes the easiest way to locate the court's pivotal fact or facts is to consider what would have happened if they'd chosen to focus on a different fact.
  • For example, if the court in the case of the beleaguered baker had decided to focus on the fact that cupcakes are food, and food has never been protected under the First Amendment, it might have arrived at a different decision than it did. Because the court focused instead on the fact that the baker wrote words with icing, just as writers write words in ink, and concluded that written words inarguably enjoy First Amendment protection.
  • Although many other facts may be relevant, or important to some other aspect of the case, those aren't the facts that made the court rule the way it did.

Step 4 Consider how the rule would apply to different facts.

  • No court case exists in isolation. Once a court issues a decision, the legal interpretation and rules it establishes become part of the larger body of law devoted to that particular issue. Each opinion helps future courts understand more about the statute or constitutional provision at the heart of the case.
  • You don't have to wait for future courts to apply the rule you've just learned to other cases, however. Take the facts in the original case and twist them slightly, then apply the rule yourself.
  • Law professors call these imaginary cases "hypotheticals," and spend a good portion of class churning them out and asking their students to apply the rule they've learned to sometimes bizarre and convoluted stories.

Expert Q&A

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  • ↑ https://www.gareth-evans.com/how-to-read-understand-and-summarise-legal-cases/
  • ↑ http://www.lexisnexis.com/en-us/lawschool/pre-law/reading-a-casebook.page
  • ↑ https://www.monash.edu/learnhq/write-like-a-pro/annotated-assessment-samples/law/law-case-note
  • ↑ https://utas.libguides.com/legal_research/caselaw
  • ↑ http://www.cengage.com/resource_uploads/downloads/0324654553_91282.pdf
  • ↑ https://lawschool.westlaw.com/marketing/display/SG/3
  • ↑ http://www.csun.edu/~kkd61657/brief.pdf

About This Article

Jennifer Mueller, JD

Case law refers to the decisions appellate judges make from their interpretations of former cases. To analyze specific case law, you’ll need to read the case through and try to get a feel for how the court made their decision. It can be pretty complex when you’re first reading a case, so jot down the main parties, the main dispute, and a brief history of the case to help yourself keep track. Once you understand the case, try to identify the legal rules the court used to make their decision. It’s also helpful to imagine different scenarios where the rule the case established could be applied, and whether or not the outcome would be the same. To learn how to focus on the most important facts of a case, read more from our Legal co-author! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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US Case Law

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Lower courts on the federal level include the US Courts of Appeals, US District Courts, the US Court of Claims, and the US Court of International Trade and US Bankruptcy Courts. Federal courts hear cases involving matters related to the United States Constitution, other federal laws and regulations, and certain matters that involve parties from different states or countries and large sums of money in dispute.

Each state has its own judicial system that includes trial and appellate courts. The highest court in each state is often referred to as the “supreme” court, although there are some exceptions to this rule, for example, the New York Court of Appeals or the Maryland Court of Appeals. State courts generally hear cases involving state constitutional matters, state law and regulations, although state courts may also generally hear cases involving federal laws. States also usually have courts that handle only a specific subset of legal matters, such as family law and probate.

Case law, also known as precedent or common law, is the body of prior judicial decisions that guide judges deciding issues before them. Depending on the relationship between the deciding court and the precedent, case law may be binding or merely persuasive. For example, a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is binding on all federal district courts within the Fifth Circuit, but a court sitting in California (whether a federal or state court) is not strictly bound to follow the Fifth Circuit’s prior decision. Similarly, a decision by one district court in New York is not binding on another district court, but the original court’s reasoning might help guide the second court in reaching its decision.

Decisions by the US Supreme Court are binding on all federal and state courts.

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how to legal case study

  • Discussion Forum
  • Why and How: Using the Case Study Method in the Law Classroom

person walking by langdell

Post by: Jackie Kim and Lisa Brem

Why should legal educators use case studies and other experiential teaching methods, such as role plays and simulations, in their classes?  Hasn’t the Langdell method served legal education well these last 140 years?  Certainly creating and using experiential materials requires a different set of skills from faculty, elicits a different response and level of engagement from students, and poses barriers to implementation. The ABA’s LEAPS Project [i] has a comprehensive list of objections to practical problem solving in the classroom: materials are time consuming and expensive to create and deploy; addition of a case study or simulation to a syllabus inherently displaces other material; and there are few incentives from law school leaders to introduce this type of teaching.

Yet, the argument promoting experiential materials and techniques is strong. The 2007 Carnegie Report [ii] recommended integrating lawyering skills practice into the curriculum alongside doctrinal courses, and the ABA added simulation courses to the list of practical experiences that can and should be offered by law schools in its 2015 Guidance Memo [iii] .

In a 2007 Vanderbilt Law Review article [iv] , HLS Dean Martha Minow and Professor Todd D. Rakoff argued that Langdell’s approach to teaching students using appellate cases does not do enough to prepare law students for real-world problems: “The fact is, Langdell’s case method is good for some things, but not good for others. We are not talking about fancy goals here; we are talking about teaching students ‘how to think like a lawyer.’”

But does the case study method result in a higher degree of student learning? While we have not yet seen a study on the efficacy of the case study method vs. the Langdell method in law schools, research [v] from political science professor Matthew Krain suggests that case studies and problem-based activities do enhance certain types of learning over other types of pedagogy.  In his investigation, Krain compared the results of pre-and post-course surveys of students who participated in active learning with those who received a traditional lecture course. The case studies and problems that Krain used in his non-traditional classes included: case studies in the form of popular press articles, formal case studies, films, or problem-based case exercises that required students to produce a work product.

Krain found that:

Student-centered reflection, in which students have the opportunity to discuss their understanding of the case, allows both students and instructors to connect active learning experiences back to a larger theoretical context. Case learning is particularly useful for dramatizing abstract theoretical concepts, making seemingly distant events or issues seem more “authentic” or “real,” demonstrating the connection between theory and practice, and building critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (Inoue & Krain, 2014; Krain, 2010; Kuzma & Haney, 2001; Lamy, 2007; Swimelar, 2013).

This study suggests that case-based approaches have great utility in the classroom, and they should be used more often in instances where students’ understanding of conceptual complexity or knowledge of case details is critical. Moreover, case-based exercises can be derived from a variety of different types of materials and still have great utility. If deployed selectively in the context of a more traditional classroom setting as ways to achieve particular educational objectives, case-based approaches can be useful tools in our pedagogical toolbox.

For those who might be ready to try a case study, role play, or simulation, there are resources that can help.  Harvard Law School produces case studies for use throughout the legal curriculum. The HLS Case Studies program publishes these teaching materials, and makes them available to educators, academic staff, students, and trainers. Outside of Harvard Law School, links to resources for educators implementing the case study method can be found on the Case Studies Program Resources page. Listed are case study affiliates at Harvard, legal teaching and learning tools, tips for case teaching, and free case materials. Examples include the Legal Education, ADR, and Practical Problem Solving (LEAPS) Project [vi] from the American Bar Association , which provides resources for various topics on legal education, and the Teaching Post , an educators’ forum offered by the Harvard Business School where professors can seek or provide advice on case study teaching.

“… [O]ur society is full of new problems demanding new solutions, and less so than in the past are lawyers inventing those solutions. We think we can, and ought to, do better.” – Dean Martha Minow & Professor Todd Rakoff. [vii]

[i] “Overcoming Barriers to Teaching ‘Practical Problem-Solving’.” Legal Education, ADR & Practical Problem-Solving (LEAPS) Project, American Bar Association, Section of Dispute Resolution. Accessed March 16, 2017, http://leaps.uoregon.edu/content/overcoming-barriers-teaching-%E2%80%9Cpractical-problem-solving%E2%80%9D. [ii] William M. Sullivan, Anne Colby, Judith Welch Wegner, Lloyd Bond, and Lee S. Shulman, “Educating Lawyers,”  The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2007). [iii] American Bar Association, “Managing Director’s Guidance Memo,”  Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar  (2015). [iv] Martha Minow and Todd D. Rakoff, “A Case for Another Case Method,” Vanderbilt Law Review 60(2) (2007): 597-607. [v] Matthew Krain, “Putting the learning in case learning? The effects of case-based approaches on student knowledge, attitudes, and engagement,” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 27(2) (2016): 131-153. [vi] “Overcoming Barriers to Teaching ‘Practical Problem-Solving’.” [vii] Minow and Rakoff.

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  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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how to legal case study

Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Understanding Legal Case Studies: An In-Depth Analysis of Real-Life Legal Scenarios

Understanding Legal Case Studies: An In-Depth Analysis of Real-Life Legal Scenarios

Hello and welcome! Today, we will delve into the fascinating world of legal case studies. Through an in-depth analysis of real-life legal scenarios, we will explore the intricacies of the law and gain a better understanding of how it applies in different situations. So, let’s jump right in and explore this exciting topic!

Understanding Legal Case Studies:

📋 Content in this article

1. What are Legal Case Studies? Legal case studies are detailed examinations of real legal cases that have been heard in courts across the United States. These studies provide a comprehensive analysis of the facts, legal issues, arguments presented by both parties, and the final decisions reached by the courts.

2. Purpose of Legal Case Studies: The primary purpose of legal case studies is to educate and inform individuals about the law by illustrating how it is applied in real-life situations. By studying these cases, individuals can gain insights into legal principles, reasoning, and how courts interpret and apply laws.

3. Types of Legal Case Studies: Legal case studies cover a wide range of legal areas, including criminal law, civil law, constitutional law, administrative law, and more. Each case study focuses on a specific legal issue and provides a detailed examination of the facts, legal arguments, and outcomes.

4. Key Components of Legal Case Studies: a. Facts: Case studies present a detailed account of the events that led to the legal dispute.

b. Legal Issues: These studies highlight the specific legal questions or controversies that arose in the case.

c. Arguments: Both parties present their arguments and legal reasoning to support their positions.

d. Precedents: Case studies often reference previous court decisions (precedents) that may have bearing on the current case.

e. Court Decision: The case study provides an analysis of the court’s final decision and its reasoning.

5. Benefits of Studying Legal Case Studies: Studying legal case studies can be beneficial for various individuals, including law students, legal professionals, and curious individuals interested in understanding the law. By examining these cases, one can develop critical thinking skills, improve legal analysis, and gain a deeper understanding of the legal system.

6. Ethical Considerations: When studying legal case studies, it is essential to approach them with an open mind and respect for the parties involved. Remember that these cases involve real people and real legal disputes that have had significant impacts on their lives. It is crucial to maintain privacy and confidentiality while discussing and analyzing these cases.

In conclusion, legal case studies provide a valuable tool for understanding the law and its application in real-life situations. By examining the facts, legal issues, arguments, and court decisions of these cases, individuals can develop a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the legal system. So, let’s embark on this journey together and explore the fascinating world of legal case studies!

Understanding the Practical Application of Case Studies in Real Life Scenarios

In the realm of law, case studies play a crucial role in understanding and analyzing legal scenarios. A case study is a detailed examination of a particular legal case or situation, which serves as a valuable tool for lawyers, law students, and anyone interested in understanding the practical application of law in real life.

1. Detailed Analysis: Case studies provide a comprehensive analysis of legal issues, facts, parties involved, and the reasoning behind court decisions. These studies offer a deeper understanding of the complexities and intricacies of legal cases by breaking them down into distinct elements.

2. Real-Life Scenarios: Case studies simulate real-life situations that legal professionals encounter in their practice. They present actual legal disputes that have been resolved by courts or settled through negotiations. This allows for a direct application of legal principles to real-world scenarios.

3. Legal Principles and Precedents: Case studies delve into the legal principles and precedents that have shaped the outcome of a particular case. By examining previous court decisions and legal doctrines, case studies help lawyers develop a deep understanding of the principles that guide the law.

4. Learning from Precedents: Precedent is a fundamental concept in the legal system, referring to previous court decisions that serve as binding authority for future cases. Case studies provide an opportunity to study and analyze precedents, allowing legal professionals to understand how courts have interpreted and applied the law in similar situations.

5. Problem-Solving Skills: Studying case studies enhances problem-solving skills by presenting complex legal issues that require critical thinking and analysis. Lawyers must identify relevant facts, assess legal arguments, and propose effective strategies to resolve the case. Case studies offer valuable practice in honing these skills.

6. Ethical Considerations: Case studies often explore ethical dilemmas faced by legal professionals. By examining the ethical implications of legal decisions and actions, case studies promote ethical awareness and encourage lawyers to make informed and morally sound choices in their practice.

7. Practical Application: Understanding legal case studies is essential for effectively applying legal concepts in real-life scenarios. By studying how the law has been applied in similar situations, lawyers can draw upon that knowledge to advocate for their clients, negotiate settlements, or develop strategies to prevent potential legal disputes.

In conclusion, grasping the significance of legal case studies is crucial for anyone involved in the legal field. They provide a detailed analysis of real-life legal scenarios, allowing for a deeper understanding of legal principles, precedents, and problem-solving skills. By immersing oneself in case studies, one can gain valuable insights into the practical application of law in various situations.

Analyzing a Legal Case Study: Key Steps and Considerations

Legal case studies are an essential tool used by legal professionals to analyze and understand real-life legal scenarios. These studies offer a detailed examination of the facts, the legal issues involved, and the outcome of a particular case. An in-depth analysis of a legal case study can provide valuable insights and guidance for both attorneys and potential clients.

It is important to approach the analysis of a legal case study in a systematic and methodical manner. The following steps and considerations should be taken into account when analyzing a legal case study:

  • 1. Identify the Relevant Legal Issues: The first step in analyzing a legal case study is to identify the specific legal issues that arise from the facts of the case. These issues may include matters such as contract disputes, negligence claims, criminal charges, or constitutional questions. Clearly identifying the legal issues at hand will help focus the analysis and determine which areas of law are applicable.
  • 2. Review the Facts: Carefully reviewing and understanding the facts of the case is crucial to conducting a comprehensive analysis. This involves examining the events leading up to the legal dispute, the actions of the parties involved, and any relevant documentation or evidence. The facts will serve as the foundation for applying legal principles and determining the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s position.
  • 3. Research Applicable Laws: Once the legal issues and facts have been identified, it is important to research and understand the relevant laws that apply to the case. This involves reviewing statutes, regulations, case precedents, and legal doctrines that pertain to the specific areas of law involved. A thorough understanding of the applicable laws will provide a basis for evaluating the strength of each party’s arguments.
  • 4. Analyze Precedent Cases: Examining relevant precedent cases can provide valuable guidance and insights when analyzing a legal case study. Precedent cases are court decisions that have addressed similar legal issues in the past and have established legal principles or guidelines. They can help predict how a court might rule in a similar situation, and assist in crafting persuasive arguments.
  • 5. Evaluate Legal Arguments: After conducting thorough research and analysis, it is important to evaluate the strength of each party’s legal arguments. This involves assessing the credibility and relevance of the evidence presented, identifying any weaknesses or inconsistencies, and weighing the potential impact of legal precedents. Evaluating legal arguments requires careful reasoning and the consideration of various perspectives.
  • 6. Consider Potential Outcomes: When analyzing a legal case study, it is important to consider the potential outcomes or consequences of different legal arguments. This involves assessing the likelihood of success for each party, considering the potential remedies or damages that may be awarded, and evaluating the impact on future legal precedents. Considering potential outcomes helps inform strategic decision-making and assists in determining the best course of action.
  • 7. Seek Legal Advice: While analyzing a legal case study can provide valuable insights and guidance, it is important to consult with a qualified attorney for professional advice. A knowledgeable attorney can provide a deeper understanding of the legal issues involved, offer strategic advice, and help navigate the complexities of the legal system.

Analyzing a legal case study requires careful attention to detail, thorough research, and critical thinking. By following these key steps and considerations, one can gain a deeper understanding of real-life legal scenarios and make informed decisions based on sound legal principles.

Understanding the Mechanics of an In-Depth Case Study

In the world of law, legal case studies play a vital role in understanding the intricacies of real-life legal scenarios. These studies provide a comprehensive analysis of the mechanics involved in the resolution of complex legal disputes. Whether you are a law student, a legal professional, or simply interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the legal system, delving into the details of case studies can be an enlightening and educational experience.

What is a Legal Case Study?

A legal case study refers to an in-depth examination of a specific legal dispute, typically based on real-life scenarios. These studies aim to provide a detailed analysis of the legal issues at hand, the parties involved, the relevant laws and regulations, and ultimately, the outcome of the case. By dissecting the facts and circumstances of a case, legal case studies offer valuable insights into the application and interpretation of the law.

Why Study Legal Case Studies?

1. Learning from Precedents: Legal case studies help us understand how courts have interpreted and applied the law in previous cases. By analyzing past precedents, we can gain a better understanding of how legal principles are established and how they evolve over time.

2. Developing Analytical Skills: Studying legal case studies hones our ability to analyze complex situations, identify key legal issues, and evaluate different arguments. This analytical skillset is crucial for any legal professional, as it enables them to effectively navigate through complicated legal disputes.

3. Gaining Practical Knowledge: Case studies allow us to see how legal theories and concepts are put into practice. By examining the strategies and tactics employed by attorneys in real-life cases, we can gain practical knowledge that may prove valuable in our own legal endeavors.

4. Understanding Legal Processes: Legal case studies provide a behind-the-scenes look at the legal process. From the initial filing of a complaint to the final resolution of a case, these studies shed light on the various stages and procedures involved in legal proceedings.

The Mechanics of an In-Depth Case Study

When conducting an in-depth case study, several key components should be considered:

1. Factual Background: A thorough understanding of the facts surrounding the case is essential. This includes information about the parties involved, their relationships, and the events leading up to the legal dispute.

2. Legal Issues: Identifying the central legal issues is crucial. This involves analyzing the applicable laws and regulations and determining how they relate to the facts of the case.

3. Legal Analysis: A comprehensive legal analysis involves examining and interpreting relevant statutes, regulations, and precedents. This step helps establish the legal framework within which the case will be evaluated.

4. Arguments and Counterarguments: A critical aspect of an in-depth case study is evaluating the arguments put forth by each party. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these arguments allows for a more objective assessment of the case.

5. Outcome and Implications: Finally, analyzing the outcome of the case and its potential implications is essential. This includes considering the impact on future legal disputes and potential changes to existing laws or regulations.

As a seasoned attorney in the United States, I understand the value of staying up-to-date with legal case studies. Legal case studies provide an in-depth analysis of real-life legal scenarios, allowing attorneys and legal professionals to deepen their understanding of various areas of law and refine their legal strategies. In this article, I will reflect on the importance of staying informed about legal case studies and offer some suggestions on how to effectively utilize this valuable resource.

Legal case studies offer a unique opportunity to examine the application of law in real-world situations. They provide detailed accounts of actual legal disputes, including the facts, legal issues, arguments presented by both parties, and the final outcome. By studying these cases, attorneys can gain insights into the intricacies of legal reasoning and decision-making by judges and juries.

One of the key benefits of understanding legal case studies is the ability to learn from the successes and failures of others. By examining past cases, attorneys can identify effective legal strategies that have proven successful in similar situations. This knowledge can be applied to future cases, allowing attorneys to advocate more effectively for their clients and increase their chances of achieving a favorable outcome.

Furthermore, legal case studies serve as a valuable source of precedent. The decisions made in previous cases, especially those by higher courts, often establish legal principles that guide future rulings. By familiarizing themselves with relevant case law, attorneys can provide informed advice to their clients and craft persuasive arguments based on established legal principles.

Staying up-to-date on legal case studies is essential for any attorney seeking to provide high-quality legal representation. Here are some suggestions on how to effectively utilize this valuable resource:

1. Read Legal Journals and Publications: Legal journals and publications often publish analyses of significant legal cases. These articles provide expert insights and interpretation of the key issues and implications of the cases. Subscribing to reputable legal publications can ensure that you receive regular updates on new and noteworthy case studies.

2. Attend Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Programs: CLE programs are designed to help attorneys stay current with legal developments. Many CLE programs include sessions dedicated to analyzing recent case studies and their impact on specific areas of law. Attending these programs can provide valuable insights and allow for networking with other legal professionals.

3. Join Professional Associations: Professional associations, such as bar associations and specialized legal organizations, often offer resources and opportunities for attorneys to engage in case study discussions with peers. These associations may provide access to exclusive databases or discussion forums where attorneys can exchange ideas and insights on recent legal cases.

4. Utilize Online Legal Research Platforms: Online legal research platforms, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, provide comprehensive databases of legal cases. These platforms allow attorneys to search for relevant case studies, filter results based on specific criteria, and access additional resources such as court opinions and secondary legal materials.

While legal case studies are an invaluable resource, it is important to exercise caution and verify the content presented. Not all sources may be reliable or accurately reflect the current state of the law. Attorneys should always cross-reference multiple sources and consult primary legal authorities to ensure the accuracy and currency of the information they rely upon.

In conclusion, staying informed about legal case studies is crucial for attorneys looking to expand their knowledge and refine their legal strategies. By studying real-life legal scenarios, attorneys can learn from the successes and failures of others, understand legal reasoning, identify effective strategies, and establish a solid foundation of case law precedent. By utilizing various resources such as legal publications, CLE programs, professional associations, and online research platforms, attorneys can stay up-to-date with the latest legal case studies and provide exceptional legal representation to their clients.

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Leveraging the profound impact of real-world success stories, case studies stand out as indispensable assets in law firm marketing. They not only underscore your firm’s expertise and capacity for achieving favorable outcomes but also play a crucial role in fostering trust and credibility among prospective clients.

Here is a guide (with homework!) on how law firms can effectively incorporate case studies into their marketing materials enhancing engagement and building their reputation as a leader in their respective areas of practice.

  • Comprehensive Analysis : Craft case studies to provide a thorough analysis of significant legal matters, outlining the client’s challenge, the firm’s approach and the successful resolution. Ensure the narrative highlights the firm’s legal acumen and strategic thinking.
  • Client-Centric Focus : Center the narrative around the client’s needs and journey, demonstrating empathy and a deep understanding of their situation. This approach makes the case study relatable and emphasizes the firm’s commitment to client success.
  • Multimedia Elements : Enhance the case studies with images, graphs or video interviews of attorneys discussing key aspects of the case. These elements add depth to the story and help demystify complex legal processes.
  • Incorporate Client Testimonials : If possible, include client testimonials within the case studies to add authenticity and provide a first-hand account of the firm’s impact.
  • Showcase Practice Area Expertise : Utilize case studies to highlight the firm’s proficiency across various practice areas, demonstrating versatility and a comprehensive approach to legal services.
  • Educational Value : Ensure the case studies also serve an educational purpose, offering insights into legal strategies, industry-specific challenges or legislative implications.
  • Optimize for Search Engines : Make the case studies easily discoverable online by optimizing for search engines. Use relevant keywords and ensure the content is accessible on the firm’s website.
  • Social Media Promotion : Create bite-sized summaries or key takeaways from the case studies for sharing on social media, driving engagement and website traffic.
  • Client Presentations : Utilize case studies in pitches or presentations to potential clients, showcasing the firm’s successful track record and solution-oriented approach.
  • Training Resources : Employ case studies as training materials, providing practical examples to help junior attorneys bridge the gap between theory and practice.
  • Maintain Relevance : Regularly update the case studies to reflect new developments, ensuring the content remains current and relevant.
  • Accessible Design : Design a user-friendly section on the firm’s website dedicated to case studies, ensuring potential clients can easily find and navigate through the success stories.
  • Clear Call-to-Action : Conclude each case study with a call-to-action, encouraging readers to reach out for more information or to discuss their legal needs.

By strategically integrating legal case studies into their marketing materials, law firms can effectively demonstrate their expertise, foster trust and engage meaningfully with their target audiences.

Homework: Putting Case Studies into Action

Now that you’ve learned how to leverage legal case studies in your marketing materials, it’s time to put this knowledge into action. Here’s a homework task to help you get started:

Task: Create a Mini Case Study

  • Select a Matter : Choose a recent legal matter that had a successful outcome and involved interesting legal strategies or challenges. Ensure you have client permission or anonymize the details to maintain confidentiality.
  • Client Challenge : What problem was the client facing?
  • Legal Strategy : What approach did your firm take to address the issue?
  • Outcome : What was the result of your firm’s involvement?
  • Client Testimonial (if available): Include a short client quote about their experience.
  • Create a Visual Element : Design a simple infographic or visual aid that highlights the main points of the case study. You can use free online tools like Canva for this task.
  • Share on Social Media : Share your mini case study on one of your firm’s social media platforms. Include a brief introduction, the visual element, and a call-to-action encouraging viewers to contact your firm for similar legal assistance.
  • Reflect : After posting, reflect on the process. How did it feel to showcase your firm’s success? Did you receive any feedback or engagement from clients or peers?
  • Plan for Future Case Studies : Based on this experience, think about how you can incorporate more detailed case studies into your firm’s broader marketing strategy. What worked well? What could be improved?

By completing this homework task, you will have taken a tangible step toward integrating case studies into your marketing efforts, providing a practical example of your firm’s expertise and success. Remember, the goal is to build trust and showcase your firm’s capabilities, one success story at a time.

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Harvard Law School Digitization Project Publishes Nearly 7 Million Court Cases Online

The Harvard Law School's Caselaw Access Project published almost seve million cases from the school's collections.

The Caselaw Access Project published nearly seven million cases from the Harvard Law School’s collections online on March 8, concluding a nine-year process to digitize the HLS Library’s archive of court cases.

The Caselaw Access Project, also known as CAP, aimed “to make all published U.S. court decisions freely available to the public online in a consistent format, digitized from the collection of the Harvard Law School Library,” according to the project’s website.

The recent release of cases has culminated in “360 years of United States caselaw” accessible to the public, according to the project’s website. This includes all “official, book-published state and federal United States caselaw through 2020,” with the first case dating back to 1658.

Jack Cushman, the project’s director, said that the impetus behind the effort was a desire to make caselaw more accessible to the public. In the past, few people beyond lawyers had access to expensive caselaw databases and could view important legal decisions.

This project, according to Cushman, sought to level the playing field.

Cushman said he believed it was important “for everyone to have access to the law of the land.”

CAP launched in 2015 through a partnership with Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics startup company. Per the terms of the partnership, CAP received financial support in exchange for Ravel obtaining eight years of exclusivity with the caselaw documents, according to Harvard Law Today, a school-run publication.

This project falls under the initiatives of the Law School’s Library Innovation Lab, “a forward-looking group of thinkers and doers working at the intersection of libraries, technology, and law,” according to the organization's website. The LIL facilitated the delicate process of digitizing case files for the project.

As part of the process, 40,000 books containing case files were retrieved from Harvard Law School’s collection in the HLS Library and a repository in Southborough, Mass. The CAP team then used a variety of tools to de-bind the books, effectively scan case files at a rate of 500,000 pages per week, and wrap the books in plastic to be sent to a limestone mine in Kentucky for preservation.

The scanned files were then translated into machine-readable documents and uploaded to the Ravel website. Ravel’s website made sifting through documents easier with their “data science, machine learning, and visualization” systems, according to Harvard Law Today.

Cushman said it was essential to not rush the process, as CAP was dealing with delicate documents that were both culturally and historically important.

“I think one lesson is just, it’s okay if it takes a long time,” he said. “For cultural preservation and cultural heritage — we’re in this for the long run.”

Now that the case files have been digitized, CAP aims to further improve search functionality to make the platform “practically usable,” furthering their mission to increase caselaw accessibility for all. With this forward-looking approach to law accessibility, CAP’s next goal is to strengthen its institutional collaborations with AI model makers interested in high quality datasets.

Cushman said that the digital archive could be useful for “Harvard students who are looking for projects or ways to make their mark with civic technology and big datasets.”

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what you can do with it,” Cushman added.

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Conservative and Liberal Perspectives Come Together on the Benefit of Class Actions

On March 19, the University of Colorado Law School’s Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law and the Colorado Law Federalist Society hosted a thought-provoking discussion about Professor Brian Fitzpatrick’s ground-breaking book, The Conservative Case for Class Actions. Professor Fitzpatrick, a widely recognized conservative legal scholar and law professor at Vanderbilt Law School, delved into the subject of class actions from the conservative lens. 

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Traditionally viewed as a tool of liberal advocacy, the class action is, in fact, aligned with conservative principles and values. Professor Fitzpatrick made the case for why class actions should be re-evaluated as consistent with conservativism because of their potential to promote free markets, individual liberty, and limited government intervention. Providing a mechanism for efficiently resolving mass disputes, class actions can serve as a conservative alternative to regulatory oversight, empowering individuals to seek redress for harm caused by corporate misconduct. Throughout the event, Professor Fitzpatrick eloquently articulated conservative principles that permeate his book and its premise, drawing on statistical evidence and practical examples to dispel the myth that class actions are bad.  

Director of the Byron White Center and Colorado Law Professor Suzette Malveaux set the table for the discussion by offering a class action primer and sharing her experience as a class action litigator who represented 1.5 million women alleging gender discrimination against Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011)), the largest employment discrimination class action to date. Participants even got the chance to hear from her client, named plaintiff Betty Dukes, in a video clip of Ms. Dukes testifying before Congress about the importance of class actions.  Professor Malveaux offered commentary to Professor Fitzpatrick’s book talk and kicked off the Q&A.  

The event was packed with material on an often under-appreciated subject of civil procedure and constitutional law.  Reflecting on the talk, Colorado Law Professor and Federalist Society Faculty Mentor, Andrew Schwartz shared: “It was a fabulous event. Professor Malveaux led off with a great primer on class actions, and Professor Fitzpatrick provided a cogent and convincing defense of this type of aggregate litigation. I learned a lot.”  

Ryan Harrington ‘26 offered: “In a society where free speech and free thought are becoming increasingly more restricted, it is refreshing to see a college campus embrace a new idea, political view, and standpoint that challenges them to think differently.” 

By providing a platform for diverse perspectives, Professor Fitzpatrick’s book talk demonstrated the value of intellectual discourse in advancing understanding and shaping public discourse on important constitutional law issues. 

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Welcome Virginia REALTORS ®

Attention to Basic Details – Legal Case Study – April 2024

Legal Case Study header

On December 26, 2022, Stephen entered into a Listing Agreement with National for the sale of real property.

On March 24, 2023, Max entered into a Right to Represent Buyer Agreement with National Firm. Max and Stephen acknowledged that Anthony was representing both parties and acting as a Dual Agent by ratifying a Disclosure of Dual Agency or Dual Representation in a Residential Real Estate Transaction form.

Also on March 24, 2023, Max as buyer and Stephen as seller entered into a purchase agreement for the subject property. National was both the Listing Firm and Selling Firm. Anthony was the disclosed Dual Agent in the transaction.

On March 25, 2023, Max submitted a $5,000 earnest money deposit to the Escrow Agent via wire transfer, as specified in the Contract.

The Contract specified the wrong legal description, no tax parcel number, and was missing a portion of the address as recognized by the United States Postal Service.

The section of the Contract regarding Residential Property Disclosure was not completed.

Under additional terms, the Contract stated, “Offer includes primary residences and 2 additional lots.” The Contract did not specify any identifiers for the “2 additional lots.”

On April 22, 2023, Max sent an email to Anthony indicating the legal description nor parcel ID was mentioned in the contract. Max was purchasing the property based only on supplied visuals or those available via public record. Max’s lender could not move forward because the Contract did not have the exact information of which parcels were being sold.

On or about May 13, 2023, a survey was completed of the subject properties. Anthony paid for the additional survey of the subject properties. The lots were found to be owned by Stephen.

On May 25, 2023, the parties entered into an addendum to the purchase agreement. In part, the addendum correctly identified the parties in the transaction, correctly identified the subject properties, and specified Stephen had full legal authority to convey the subject properties.

On June 14, 2023, Max sent an email to Anthony. In summary, the email stated the Max was terminating the Contract and terminating his agency relationship with National. Anthony responded and accepted the termination.

On October 13, 2023, DPOR received Max’s complaint, in which Max alleged Anthony misrepresented parcels available for sale and property ownership.

Anthony was found in violation of 18 VAC 135-20-300 (Misrepresentation/Omission) because he failed to include the complete terms and conditions of the real estate transaction in the Contract.

Anthony was fined $600 and required to take six hours of Contract Writing education.

Published April 2024

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Erin Hawley: The Woman Arguing Against the Abortion Pill

Erin Hawley, a law professor and wife of Senator Josh Hawley, is arguing the Supreme Court case.

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Erin Hawley stands on the steps of a courthouse in front of microphones.

By Elizabeth Dias and Abbie VanSickle

It was 2014, and Erin Morrow Hawley was fighting against the egg-laying hens of Missouri. Specifically, a new requirement that chicken cages have enough space for the hens to stand up, turn around and stretch out.

A law professor from five generations of ranchers and the wife of Senator Josh Hawley, Ms. Hawley joined a challenge to California, which required more spacious enclosures for hens laying eggs to be sold there. The state where she taught, Missouri, sold a third of its eggs to California, and Ms. Hawley believed that a blue state had no right to impose its values and rules on Missouri’s farmers.

She joined in a lawsuit against California’s attorney general at the time, Kamala Harris. A judge found that the challengers could show no direct injury and dismissed the case. Ms. Hawley continued teaching, and Ms. Harris became Joe Biden’s vice president.

Ten years later, Ms. Hawley, 44, is now at the center of one of the country’s most heated cultural battles about bodily autonomy, gender roles and abortion. On Tuesday, for the first time since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court considered a case involving nationwide limits on abortion access. And Ms. Hawley was the woman standing before the justices, arguing to sharply curtail access to the abortion pill.

The case centers on the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a commonly available drug used in the majority of abortions in the country. Limiting medication abortion is a next frontier for the anti-abortion movement in the post-Roe era.

Ms. Hawley represents a group of anti-abortion doctors and an umbrella group of conservative medical associations that claim that the abortion pill — approved more than two decades ago — is a danger to women. The F.D.A. has pointed to substantial scientific evidence that the medication abortion is safe .

Ms. Hawley views the cause as similar to her fights against government interference, rooted in her experience of ranch life.

“You see how those regulations impact people that are really living on the ground, and sometimes for good and sometimes maybe not for good,” she said in an interview with The Times earlier this month. “And so being pro-life, and believing that every child, no matter how small, no matter if they’re not yet born, is invested with inherent dignity and worth — government action can have a lot to say about that as well.”

She argues that federal approval of the abortion pill went forward without enough consideration of possible side effects and dangers, and that subsequent changes to enable greater access have ignored health risks to women.

The government lawyers in this case, led by Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, have argued in court filings that Ms. Hawley and her legal team offered scant evidence of real injury, and that declarations from “seven identified doctors” were “often vague or conclusory.”

Ms. Hawley’s particular background makes her ideal for this moment. Her longtime interest in limiting the power of the administrative state is well suited to speak to the current court’s conservative supermajority, which has welcomed cases challenging regulations on everything from herring fish to machine guns and, now, abortion.

Ms. Hawley brings her credentials not only as a former clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. but as a millennial Christian mother. An evangelical believer who forefronts her identity as a wife and mother of three, Ms. Hawley works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful conservative Christian legal group. She represents the ideals of womanhood many in the anti-abortion and conservative Christian movement seek to elevate.

Until now, Ms. Hawley has been best known as the wife of Senator Hawley, Republican of Missouri, who actively sought the overturning of Roe and has supported anti-abortion legislation.

In a campaign ad for him, Ms. Hawley starred as an everyday mom, playing with their children in the kitchen, while he took the spotlight. But she will be one of a few women to argue a prominent abortion case at the Supreme Court for the anti-abortion side.

Even anti-abortion leaders often said “who?” or “Josh’s wife?” when asked about Ms. Hawley. Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, has met her at events supporting Senator Hawley but did not realize that Ms. Hawley was arguing the mifepristone case.

“There are millions of conservative women all over our country who are educated and powerful and love their families, similar to Erin Hawley,” Ms. Nance said. “She is actually fairly typical of young millennial conservative Christian women coming up through the ranks.”

But it may be Ms. Hawley, not Sen. Hawley, whose work will most power the anti-abortion cause.

“I think it may be more accurate to say that he’s Erin Hawley’s husband,” Mary Ziegler, a law professor and historian at University of California, Davis, said of the senator. “I think people are just beginning to see how influential she is.”

Erin Morrow was born into a family of frontier women and grew up on a cattle ranch near Folsom, N.M., population roughly 50. The foundation of her great-great-great grandmother’s homestead is still visible on the land, where family lore says that as a young widow, she outwitted marauding bandits.

The oldest of three daughters, Ms. Hawley was raised mainly by her mother after her parents divorced. Her father, a former national rodeo champion who struggled with alcoholism and depression, died by suicide when she was in high school, a pivotal moment she has spoken about on her podcast . Her mother, Shari Morrow, ran the family’s ranch, WineCup, and started teaching Erin to ride horses before she could walk.

“She was there when the bus came home, and often she’d throw us on horseback, and we’d help her move cattle, and we were able to sort of participate in her job in a small way,” Ms. Hawley said in the interview with Times reporters. “She was just a wonderful example of putting her family first but also doing something she loved and cared about.”

Her mother, a registered Democrat in the 1990s, had wanted to be a veterinarian, and for a while her daughter did too. Ms. Hawley studied animal science at Texas A&M University and considered a doctorate in genetics. But an internship for the House Committee on Agriculture sparked her interest in regulatory law.

Ms. Hawley started law school at the University of Texas in Austin, then transferred to Yale Law School, where she was a senior editor on the law review.

She clerked for J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a Reagan appointee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and for Chief Justice Roberts in 2007.

There, her desk faced that of another clerk from Yale, Josh Hawley, and they secretly dated. He persuaded her to get married, when she was skeptical after having grown up “in a home with a marriage that wasn’t ideal,” she said in a podcast, and they moved back to his home state of Missouri.

When they searched for jobs, she impressed the faculty at the University of Missouri’s School of Law and expressed interest in filling a need to teach tax law. The school offered jobs to both of them.

Together they started the Missouri Liberty Project, “dedicated to promoting constitutional liberty and limited government.” But her husband’s career soon took the lead in their lives. As he campaigned for the U.S. Senate, she wrote a devotional book for mothers, drawing spiritual lessons from the lives of her children while comfortably weaving in references to modern theologians like Stanley Hauerwas. Her light textual analysis of original Greek words in the Bible echoes her approach to interpreting the Constitution in her legal work.

“Why can’t a high-powered lawyer also share that side of her life? Why not? That is her foundation, that is who she is,” said Julie Holmquist, who edited the book.

Ms. Hawley had expected her husband to pursue a political career after their children were grown. When they felt God calling him to run for office, she packed the family onto the campaign bus. The couple voted at their home church, The Crossing Church, an evangelical Presbyterian congregation, and the Hawleys moved to Washington.

Only a few months into her role as a lawyer for the conservative Christian legal advocacy group A.D.F. in 2021, Ms. Hawley flew to Mississippi to strategize on the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Ms. Hawley and her infant daughter arrived on time, but her babysitter did not. In the middle of the meeting, the baby let out a wail.

As Ms. Hawley tells it, this moment encapsulated her purpose, both as a Christian mom and as a lawyer aimed at dismantling the right to abortion. On the couple’s podcast, she described her baby’s crying as “a tangible reminder of why the Dobbs case might matter so much.”

At a speech after the Dobbs oral argument, Ms. Hawley said she had “been blessed to have a front-row seat on this case.” She added, “As a conservative mother, I can tell you it has been the project of a lifetime.”

Ms. Hawley has notched other legal victories, becoming synonymous with conservative social-issue cases. She worked on 303 Creative, the case in which the Supreme Court justices ruled in favor of a Colorado web designer who cited the First Amendment in refusing to serve same-sex couples.

Ms. Hawley is currently helping the Idaho attorney general defend the state’s abortion ban from a challenge by the Biden administration.

At the Supreme Court on Tuesday, her unique background was on display, even as most justices seemed skeptical of her argument. She answered a question from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. about determining standing — whether the anti-abortion doctors could show direct harm — by referencing how the court considered the issue in a case about genetically engineered crops. In that case, Ms. Hawley said, the court looked at “the distance that bees might fly in order to pollinate seed farms,” she said. She had the support of her husband, who was present in the courtroom.

Even with the pressure of a first-time oral argument, she said in the interview that she remained calm because the decision was ultimately up to God.

“Christians are called to work with excellence but also to rest in the knowledge that God is sovereign, and that we can trust the results to Him,” she said. “To have the faith that all of it is in His hands, I think does help.”

The justices are expected to make a decision in June.

Julie Tate and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Elizabeth Dias is The Times’s national religion correspondent, covering faith, politics and culture. More about Elizabeth Dias

Abbie VanSickle covers the United States Supreme Court for The Times. She is a lawyer and has an extensive background in investigative reporting. More about Abbie VanSickle

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Practice-Ready Licensing

Rethinking licensure.

This article is adapted from an article, “Enhancing the Validity and Fairness of Lawyer Licensing: Empirical Evidence Supporting Innovative Pathways ,” forthcoming in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy .

Licensing systems aim to protect the public by excluding incompetent practitioners from the profession. The bar exams administered in the United States, however, fail to live up to that promise. Those exams do not assess candidates’ ability to counsel clients, interview witnesses, or negotiate with opponents. Nor do they require candidates to draft contracts, respond to discovery requests, or develop strategies for addressing client matters. The exams do not even require candidates to show their proficiency at legal research, an essential skill given the vast number of U.S. and foreign rules that will affect today’s clients.

In the United States, each jurisdiction (including states, territories, and the District of Columbia) sets its own rules for admitting candidates to the bar. Some of those jurisdictions have started to ask: What if the requirements for licensing more effectively measured the competencies that new lawyers need for practice? These jurisdictions are breaking the hold of the traditional bar exam, creating new ways to assess the competence of candidates for bar admission.

In this article, we describe the problems that plague the bar exam and the new avenues that jurisdictions have adopted or are exploring. We then present empirical evidence that one of these avenues—evaluating candidates during a period of postgraduate supervised practice—is a valid, feasible, and fair way to assess competence for law practice. This approach, the data shows, can benefit candidates, their employers, and the clients they serve.

What’s wrong with the bar exam?

The traditional bar exam falls short on three fronts: (1) It fails to assess the knowledge and skills that new lawyers most need to practice competently. (2) It imposes heavy financial burdens on both jurisdictions and test-takers. (3) Partly because of those financial burdens, the exam disproportionately excludes from the profession candidates of color, candidates with caretaking responsibilities, and candidates who live with disabilities.

Defining competence

The recent Building a Better Bar study offers a particularly persuasive picture of the competencies new lawyers need. That study convened 50 focus groups, some with new lawyers and some with supervisors, in 18 locations across the country. The lawyers described the competencies that new lawyers need, the mistakes they make, and the training that would help them avoid those mistakes. Analysis of transcripts from those sessions demonstrated that lawyering competence rests on 12 interlocking building blocks:

  • The ability to act professionally and in accordance with the rules of professional conduct
  • An understanding of legal processes and sources of law
  • An understanding of threshold concepts in many subjects
  • The ability to interpret legal materials
  • The ability to interact effectively with clients
  • The ability to identify legal issues
  • The ability to conduct research
  • The ability to communicate as a lawyer
  • The ability to see the “big picture” of client matters
  • The ability to manage a law-related workload responsibly
  • The ability to cope with the stresses of legal practice
  • The ability to pursue self-directed learning

Traditional bar exams measure fewer than half the competencies identified by research, and NCBE’s proposed NextGen exam will do little to address the problem. Instead, those exams focus on knowledge and skills that are unnecessary—and even harmful—for contemporary practice. They test knowledge of common-law rules that no longer govern client matters, require extensive memorization of legal rules, and prize rapid responses over reflection and deliberation.

Lawyers who participated in the Building a Better Bar study emphatically rejected these exam-based habits. New lawyers must look to contemporary statutes, regulations, and court decisions rather than common-law rules; they must check their knowledge from sources rather than relying on memory; and they must take time to reflect on client matters, seek input from others, and revise their written work. The slapdash responses demanded by the bar exam can produce mistakes in practice.

Traditional bar exams measure fewer than half the competencies identified by research, and NCBE’s proposed  NextGen exams  will do little to address the problem.

Practicing lawyers also criticized the static fact patterns that dominate bar exams. These questions do not test the candidates’ ability to explore a client’s varying goals, gather facts, or adapt to the changing circumstances of real-world representation. Nor do the exams require candidates to develop a holistic view of client problems. Bar exam questions focus candidates on narrow doctrinal issues, replicating law school exams rather than law practice.

These flawed exams are expensive for both jurisdictions and candidates. Each exam requires the development, editing, and pretesting of questions. Jurisdictions then pay steep fees to rent exam sites, compensate proctors, and arrange accommodations for test-takers with disabilities. California spends more than $5,600,000 per year to cover those costs alone. Grading, scaling, and equating the exams add still more to the tab.

The heaviest expenses, however, fall on candidates. They pay some of the exam development and administrative costs through exam fees, and they pay travel and lodging costs to stay near exam sites. Most burdensome, candidates purchase expensive bar-preparation courses and forego income while devoting 10 or more weeks to intensive study. The exams’ focus on excessive memorization and undue speed requires those expenditures: research demonstrates that candidates who do not—or cannot—assume bar-prep costs are more likely to fail the exam.

The bar exam’s expense disadvantages test-takers with limited financial means , as well as those with caretaking responsibilities . Educational loans, notably, do not cover bar-prep courses, exam fees, travel expenses, or the cost of living while studying for the exam. Unequal resources explain at least part of the race and gender gaps that characterize bar results. Bar exams sharply favor white test-takers over examinees of color and offer some advantage to male candidates . Jurisdictions rightly worry about this impediment to diversifying the profession.

Many candidates who live with disabilities also struggle with bar exam. Jurisdictions require them to submit expensive documentation to secure accommodations and often refuse accommodations that candidates have relied upon during law school. The fact that the exam is offered just twice a year imposes additional obstacles for candidates with chronic conditions, those with illnesses, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

States, finally, set different passing scores for their exams—even though most administer the same Uniform Bar Examination . Research shows that higher passing scores dramatically reduce the diversity of lawyers in states with those scores, without increasing the competence of new lawyers. Economic advantage and freedom from caretaking exacerbate this unfairness: candidates who fail in one jurisdiction, but have sufficient financial resources and personal mobility to relocate, can move to a state where their score will allow them to practice law.

New avenues

In light of these flaws, several jurisdictions are exploring or adopting new ways to license lawyers. Starting in May, candidates for admission to the Oregon State Bar will be able to choose between taking the traditional bar exam and demonstrating their competence through a Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination (for more on this, see “Speaker’s Corner.” ) Candidates who choose the latter option will obtain provisional licenses, allowing them to practice under supervision. During their supervisory period they will compile portfolios consisting of written work product, assessments of client encounters, and appraisals of negotiations. Bar examiners will review redacted versions of this work to determine whether a candidate is competent to practice law.

The California State Bar has recommended that the California Supreme Court establish a pilot program for a similar licensing option. Task forces in several other states are exploring ways other than the traditional bar exam to measure lawyering competence. Updated information about those innovations, including licensing paths based upon experiential work in law school, is available from a website we maintain with other scholars.

Will [supervised-practice pathways] measure the skills and knowledge that new lawyers need?

Some lawyers wonder whether supervised-practice pathways will be valid, feasible, and fair. Will they measure the skills and knowledge that new lawyers need? Will practicing lawyers be willing to serve as supervisors? Will these programs generate new forms of bias and unfairness for applicants, which has been a problem in countries using articling and apprenticeships?

Supervised-practice pathways differ significantly from articling and other forms of apprenticeship. The pathways offer an option, not a mandate, which reduces both the demand for supervisors and the power that supervisors hold over candidates. Independent examiners provide a further check on supervisors’ power. Substantial research in medical workplaces, meanwhile, shows that it is possible to evaluate licensees fairly and rigorously as they work with patients; those studies offer detailed models for assessing lawyers. And we already have evidence, drawn from a study of New Hampshire-’s Daniel Webster program , that portfolio-licensed lawyers can outperform peers who pass a traditional bar exam. Our research adds to this evidence base.

The current study

We obtained access to a unique data set offering a first look at the validity, feasibility, and fairness of licensing systems that, like the one adopted in Oregon, assess candidates’ competence while they engage in postgraduate supervised practice. The data derives from participants in two California programs . The “Original Program” allows pandemic-era graduates to practice under supervision while waiting to pass the bar exam. The “Pathway Program” allows some individuals who narrowly failed the bar exam to become fully licensed after 300 hours of supervised practice. While working under supervision, candidates in both programs use provisional licenses that allow them to do most types of legal work.

Neither program completely parallels the licensing pathways that Oregon recently adopted and other states are considering. Candidates in the Original Program must still take the bar exam to gain full licenses, while those in the Pathway Program do not submit portfolios of work product to examiners for review. The programs, however, offer important insights into the competencies that can be assessed during supervised practice, as well as the feasibility and fairness of such programs.

In fall 2022, the California State Bar surveyed candidates and supervisors in both programs, as well as candidates who were eligible for the Pathway Program but did not participate. Those surveys generated the data we analyze in this article. The survey responses offer strong evidence that practicing lawyers are willing to supervise candidates for bar admission; that workplaces have sufficient training and mentoring systems in place to support those programs; that candidates find supervised-practice placements fair; that supervised practice assesses a greater range of knowledge and skills than the bar exam; and that innovative licensing paths expand client service—including to clients who currently lack access to justice.  

The California State Bar surveyed three populations: (1) 1,585 candidates who had received provisional licenses, (2) 1,393 supervisors of those candidates, and (3) 1,154 candidates who were eligible for the state’s Pathway Program but did not participate. Survey links were emailed to all population members in October 2022.

Response rates exceeded survey standards for all three groups: 47.8 percent for candidates holding provisional licenses, 32.0 percent for supervisors, and 47.2 percent for individuals who were eligible for the Pathway Program but did not participate. The California State Bar collected all responses in a deidentified database that was given to us for analysis. State bar staff did not participate in our analyses, and the views in this article do not reflect the perspectives of the state bar.

Key findings

Benefitting employers: feasibility.

Supervised-practice licensing systems are feasible only if practicing lawyers are willing to supervise candidates working toward their licenses. In California, almost 1,400 licensed lawyers stepped forward to supervise candidates with provisional licenses. That number of volunteers is particularly impressive because the program was new, and the state bar offered no incentives or support for participation. Survey responses, moreover, suggest that many of these volunteers are willing to make an ongoing commitment. More than two-thirds of supervisors (70.6 percent) indicated that they were willing to continue supervising candidates, and another 16.5 percent were open to that possibility.

Survey respondents backed up this commitment by pointing to many benefits of working with candidates holding provisional licenses. Supervisors were satisfied with their candidates’ work and thought their candidates were especially hardworking. This competence and work ethic allowed organizations to serve more clients: almost nine-tenths of supervisors (86.8 percent) reported expanding their client base with the help of supervised-practice candidates.

Supervisors also applauded the diversity that candidates brought to their practice teams. The candidates were more demographically diverse than recently licensed lawyers, and some possessed unusual life experiences or training. That diversity allowed organizations to enhance service to existing clients, tap new client bases, and even explore new practice areas.

Employer benefits

“The work product of the [candidate] was superior to other ‘full’ attorneys because he would put more time and effort into preparing his cases.” —Private Practitioner

“[Candidates with provisional licenses] allowed us to provide pro bono full representation to clients, whereas we would have only had the resources to provide them with advice.” —Legal Aid Supervisor

“[Our candidate] increased the diversity of our firm’s attorney staffing, which was badly needed. She also bridges our firm to new client groups . . . and is a notable client referral source. Our firm is monetarily better off, and her underserved community has greater access to much needed legal referrals.” —Law Firm Partner

“Being able to offer guidance and support to my [candidate] was personally and professionally rewarding and just made me feel good to be able to share knowledge and help her grow professionally.” —Solo Practitioner

California’s provisional licensing programs, finally, complemented employers’ hiring practices. The programs were attractive to candidates, which gave organizations an advantage when recruiting in a tight labor market. At the same time, the programs allowed organizations to give candidates a trial run before committing to a full-time position. During that trial period, candidates did not need time off to study for the bar exam; they could devote all their attention to learning the employer’s practices and serving clients.  

Most organizations already provided supervision and training to newly licensed lawyers; they were able to use that infrastructure to provide oversight and feedback for candidates with provisional licenses.

Supervisors reported obtaining these benefits with few costs. More than two-thirds of supervisors experienced no problem “at all” from candidates making mistakes, and just 4.4 percent reported that mistakes concerned them to a “great extent.” Similarly, few employers found the supervision and training of candidates burdensome. Most organizations already provided supervision and training to newly licensed lawyers; they were able to use that infrastructure to provide oversight and feedback for candidates with provisional licenses. Many supervisors shared the sentiment of a government lawyer who commented: “This program is rare in that I cannot identify one downside as it was administered in my office.”

Benefiting candidates: Fairness

Some stakeholders worry that bias and old boy networks could disadvantage women and people of color in finding supervisors or succeeding in supervised-practice pathways. Just the opposite was true in California’s programs. Women and people of color were significantly more likely than white men to participate in the Pathway Program, and they were slightly more successful than white men in completing the program and earning full licenses. 

First-generation college graduates, individuals living with disabilities, and individuals who identified as LGBTQIA+ also succeeded as candidates. We found no significant difference in success rates for these groups compared with other candidates. Nor did satisfaction ratings differ by race/ethnicity, gender, first-generation status, disability, or sexual orientation. Members of all groups expressed very high degrees of satisfaction with supervised practice. Indeed, respondents from historically disadvantaged groups offered eloquent comments about the importance of the supervised-practice program to them, their families, and their professional careers. Some supervisors volunteered similar observations.

More inclusive licensing

“I am a first generation BIPOC law student with a disability. As a single parent . . . I do not have the luxury of not earning money for months while I study for the bar.” —Candidate

“My [candidate] was exceptionally qualified and was having trouble passing the bar because her first language was not English. She was better than at least 50 percent of attorneys practicing who have passed the bar.” —Law Firm Partner

“The alternative pathway to licensure substantially improved almost every aspect of life. It allowed me to rediscover a sense of purpose and dignity, and to gain additional skills, knowledge and insights that could not have otherwise been achieved without this opportunity.” —Candidate Living with a Disability

“I know of two women of color from low-income backgrounds who qualified and succeed[ed] under the program. Our bar will benefit from their admission. Both had given up and moved on and otherwise would have left the profession.” —Nonprofit Director

Some candidates (9.7 percent) reported experiencing harassment or discrimination while engaged in supervised practice, but most of them characterized the challenges from this negative treatment as “small” or “moderate.” More important, candidates who reported discrimination or harassment were just as likely as other candidates to succeed in the programs. They also reported the same levels of satisfaction as candidates who did not report any negative treatment. Some candidates noted that the discrimination or harassment they experienced in the programs was no greater than what they endured in other contexts and that the programs, on balance, “countered” discrimination by allowing them to establish their competence and serve clients.

Stakeholders also worry that supervised-practice programs could force candidates to work without pay or accept low-paying positions. Almost all (93.6 percent) of the candidates in California’s Original Program, however, received compensation. Two-fifths of supervisors (39.4 percent) reported paying those candidates the same salaries as they paid newly licensed lawyers; 37.4 percent paid the same wages given to unlicensed law graduates; 14.4 percent paid paralegal wages; and 8.4 percent paid law student rates. These numbers suggest that programs allowing candidates to substitute supervised practice for the written bar exam may benefit both candidates and employers financially. Candidates will save the heavy expenses of bar preparation (including 10 weeks of foregone income), while employers have the option of modestly discounting entry-level salaries during the licensing period. Jurisdictions, meanwhile, can ensure that employers don’t discount salaries too heavily by requiring that employers pay candidates at least as much as they pay other law graduates who have not yet passed the bar exam.

Benefiting clients: A more valid measure of competence

The California data confirms that supervised-practice programs can assess more knowledge and skills than the traditional bar exam. More than three-quarters of candidates reported that they used key skills that are not tested on the bar exam. The prevalence of these skills in the first months of law practice demonstrates both the need to assess candidates’ competence in performing them and the possibility of assessing them during a period of supervised practice.

Percentage of licensees exercising skills

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Jurisdictions can readily incorporate each of these skills into their portfolio requirements. For the small number of candidates who are not able to exercise these skills in their supervised-practice settings, jurisdictions can follow Oregon’s lead and create simulations for candidates to use in developing and demonstrating missing skills. While the traditional bar exam fails to test essential lawyering skills like research, counseling, and client communication, supervised-practice pathways will protect clients by rigorously assessing these critical competencies.

The California data confirms that supervised-practice programs can assess more knowledge and skills than the traditional bar exam.

California’s survey responses offer similar reassurance about the scope of doctrinal knowledge that can be assessed through supervised practice. Candidates reported drawing upon an average of 5.5 doctrinal areas in their practice, with a quarter of them listing eight or more subject areas. Even candidates who focused on a particular practice area, such as criminal law or personal injury work, drew upon concepts from a range of subjects.

Candidates did not work in every subject area that they might pursue as lawyers, so a licensing system based on supervised practice could not assess their knowledge in all fields. This, however, is also true of traditional bar exams. Those exams assess knowledge in just eight to 12 doctrinal areas, with a heavy emphasis on common-law rules. The California data demonstrates just how narrow the bar exam is: almost nine-tenths of candidates reported using knowledge from subjects that are not tested on the bar exam, and more than a fifth reported practicing in four or more subjects that do not appear on the bar exam.

“Our [candidate],” one law firm partner wrote, “has been the best ‘associate’ that we have had at our firm, better than associates that have passed the bar exam.”

Supervised practice, in other words, may be more effective than the bar exam at testing candidates’ knowledge in areas of contemporary practice. Those areas include critical fields like immigration, intellectual property, arbitration, tax, employment law, and dozens of other areas that are not tested on the bar exam. Licensing systems rooted in supervised practice, moreover, will adapt naturally to changes of focus in entry-level practice.  

What about candidates who work in one field during supervised practice and then, after receiving a full license, switch to another practice area? Will those lawyers endanger clients? Once again, the same question applies to lawyers licensed through the bar exam. They are allowed to practice environmental law, international tax, admiralty, and any other subject. Supervised-practice pathways, like the bar exam, assume that professionals who have demonstrated their competence in some areas of practice are able to transfer their skills to other areas and learn the doctrinal rules of those new subjects.

The California survey did not ask supervisors to compare candidates to attorneys who had passed the bar exam, but some did so spontaneously. “Our [candidate],” one law firm partner wrote, “has been the best ‘associate’ that we have had at our firm, better than associates that have passed the bar exam.” Other supervisors noted that candidates gained “on the job training,” experience “dealing with clients,” and “more applicable knowledge” than peers who had passed the bar exam.

Practice-ready lawyers

“By participating in the actual practice of law, rather than memorization techniques for three months as with the current Bar Exam setup, these new attorneys learn more, focus on what is expected of them in the profession, and can hit the ground running faster when licensed as compared to those who have just passed a test.” —Law Firm Partner

“The ability to issue spot with a live person by asking the right questions and having the right ‘bedside manner’ is quite different from picking apart a written set of facts.” —Candidate

“Much of what we do is not even covered on the bar exam. In my experience, competence on the job is a greater predictor of success than bar passage.” —Legal Aid Supervisor

“The practical application of the law is what truly changes your view and understanding of the complexity of the law itself.” —Candidate

Finally, our research suggests that supervised-practice licensing paths can expand access to justice. In the California programs, more than a fifth (22.2 percent) of licensees worked for legal aid, public defenders, or other public-interest employers. They were able to represent disadvantaged clients immediately, without waiting to take and pass the bar exam. As one provisional licensee noted, “I am working as a first-generation lawyer in a legal aid office.  I have already put in 3,000 hours of direct community lawyering in a domestic violence clinic and doing housing rights advocacy.” Public-interest employers expressed similar enthusiasm for supervised practice. “The provisional licensees I supervised were highly competent legal advocates,” a legal aid attorney wrote, “passionate about serving low-income clients, and expanded the availability of legal services in underserved portions of rural California.” 

Building on the data

Data from California’s supervised-practice programs suggests that these programs offer a promising pathway for licensing lawyers. Practicing lawyers are willing to supervise candidates, and their organizations benefit from the candidates’ work. Supervised-practice paths lower expenses for law graduates and open the profession to candidates who can more readily demonstrate their competence in practice than on a traditional exam. Most important, supervised-practice paths allow jurisdictions to protect clients by using a more comprehensive and rigorous assessment process that encompasses a fuller range of skills and contemporary doctrine than the bar exam measures.

California’s current programs, though, are just the beginning. Jurisdictions can build on those programs—as Oregon has done—to increase their feasibility, fairness, and validity. Law schools and bar associations can help connect candidates with willing supervisors. Bar associations might offer training to supervisors who want to enhance their supervisory skills. Regulations can prevent economic exploitation of candidates, and an ombudsperson can aid candidates who encounter problematic treatment. Lastly, candidates can compile portfolios of redacted work product that they submit to bar examiners for review. Measures like these will develop a rigorous, inclusive licensing system that benefits employers, candidates, clients, and the public.

A team of highly regarded psychometricians once wrote : “The time-honored way to find out whether a person can perform a task is to have the person try to perform the task.” State courts and bar examiners are starting to heed that advice, seeking more authentic ways to assess the competence of aspiring lawyers. Our research shows that licensing systems rooted in supervised practice offer a valid, feasible, and fair avenue for measuring the knowledge and skills that lawyers need to serve contemporary clients effectively. As jurisdictions explore those options, we hope that they will add to this research base. Research can point the way to licensing systems that increase both the competence and inclusiveness of our profession.

Questions for further research

The data from California supports further exploration of licensing pathways rooted in postgraduate supervised practice. As jurisdictions develop those programs, additional research should address questions like these:

  • How can jurisdictions create reliable systems for portfolio review?
  • How will the costs of reviewing portfolios compare with the costs of preparing, administering, and grading exams?
  • How does the performance of lawyers licensed through supervised practice compare with the performance of those who pass the traditional exam?
  • How does the inclusiveness and equity of supervised-practice pathways compare with the traditional bar exam?

Deborah Jones Merritt is Distinguished University Professor and John Deaver Drinko-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law Emerita at Moritz College of Law, the Ohio State University.

Andrea Anne Curcio is Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law.

Eileen Kaufman is Professor of Law at Touro Law Center.

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    Introduction. Each branch of government produces a different type of law. Case law is the body of law developed from judicial opinions or decisions over time (whereas statutory law comes from legislative bodies and administrative law comes from executive bodies). This guide introduces beginner legal researchers to resources for finding judicial ...

  10. The Case Study Teaching Method

    The Case Study Teaching Method. It is easy to get confused between the case study method and the case method, particularly as it applies to legal education. The case method in legal education was invented by Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895. Langdell conceived of a way to systematize and simplify legal ...

  11. Case Study Resources

    The Pluralism Project Case Study Initiative seeks to understand how the case method can be useful in creatively addressing theological and religious studies issues through teaching and learning. The texts relate to issues in civil society, public life, and religious communities. Teaching Negotiation Resource Center.

  12. 6 Steps To Write A Flawless Legal Case Study

    Step 3: Identify the relevant facts. At the basis of every legal case, there has to be a story of a dispute between two parties. However, not all of the facts and circumstances associated with ...

  13. About Harvard Law Case Studies

    These case studies expose participants to real-world problems that lawyers and firm leaders confront, and help them work through possible approaches and solutions. CDI was founded by Professor Ashish Nanda and is now directed by Dr. Lisa Rohrer. Great for: discussion-based case studies, law and business, management, professional development.

  14. Free Materials

    Prosecutorial Discretion in Charging and Plea Bargaining: The Aaron Swartz Case (A) $0.00. By: Adriaan Lanni. Add to Cart.

  15. Effective Legal Case Briefs for Law Students · LSData

    As a new law student, one of the essential skills you need to develop is the ability to write effective legal case briefs. A case brief is a concise summary of a legal case that highlights the key issues, legal principles, and holdings of the court. Writing a good case brief can help you better understand the law, prepare for class discussions ...

  16. Case Study

    Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues. Law and Ethics. Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas.

  17. How to Analyze Case Law: 11 Steps (with Pictures)

    1. Read the case. You should read the case through at least once from beginning to end until you attempt to figure out which facts are most important or analyze the court's holding. It's difficult to correctly determine what was central to the court's reasoning until you've read it all the way through.

  18. A Comprehensive Guide: Where to Find Law Case Studies for Research

    Legal Blogs and Websites: Legal blogs and websites can be a useful resource for finding law case studies, especially when it comes to recent developments in the law. Many legal professionals and organizations maintain blogs where they discuss and analyze important court decisions and legal issues.

  19. US Case Law, Court Opinions & Decisions :: Justia

    Case law, also known as precedent or common law, is the body of prior judicial decisions that guide judges deciding issues before them. Depending on the relationship between the deciding court and the precedent, case law may be binding or merely persuasive. For example, a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is binding on ...

  20. Why and How: Using the Case Study Method in the Law Classroom

    Outside of Harvard Law School, links to resources for educators implementing the case study method can be found on the Case Studies Program Resources page. Listed are case study affiliates at Harvard, legal teaching and learning tools, tips for case teaching, and free case materials.

  21. What Is a Case Study?

    Revised on November 20, 2023. A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research. A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods, but quantitative methods are ...

  22. Harvard Law School

    Case Studies and Other Experiential Learning Tools from Harvard Law School. Toggle menu. 617-496-1316 Login or Sign Up; 0. ... Harvard Law School. The Case Studies. Sign In. The Case Study. a valuable tool for experiential, participant-centered learning. Learn More. Public Company Analysis.

  23. Understanding Legal Case Studies: An In-Depth Analysis of Real-Life

    What is a Legal Case Study? A legal case study refers to an in-depth examination of a specific legal dispute, typically based on real-life scenarios. These studies aim to provide a detailed analysis of the legal issues at hand, the parties involved, the relevant laws and regulations, and ultimately, the outcome of the case.

  24. Legal Case Studies in Marketing Materials

    Comprehensive Analysis: Craft case studies to provide a thorough analysis of significant legal matters, outlining the client's challenge, the firm's approach and the successful resolution ...

  25. Harvard Law School Digitization Project Publishes Nearly 7 Million

    The Caselaw Access Project published nearly seven million cases from the Harvard Law School's collections online on March 8, concluding a nine-year process to digitize the HLS Library's ...

  26. Conservative and Liberal Perspectives Come Together on the Benefit of

    On March 19, the University of Colorado Law School's Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law and the Colorado Law Federalist Society hosted a thought-provoking discussion about Professor Brian Fitzpatrick's ground-breaking book, The Conservative Case for Class Actions.

  27. Attention to Basic Details

    Attention to Basic Details - Legal Case Study - April 2024 . Download . On March 20, 2022, Anthony was issued a Real Estate Salesperson license. Anthony's license is associated with the licensed National Real Estate Firm. On December 26, 2022, Stephen entered into a Listing Agreement with National for the sale of real property. ...

  28. BUS-FPX3021- Assessment 2- Case Law Analysis- Tort Law

    Case Law Analysis - Tort Law BUS-FPX3021: Assessment 2 Capella University Case Law Analysis and Executive Briefing Ruth Garratt v Brian Dailey, a Minor, by George Dailey, his Guardian 46 Wn.2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091 (1955) Parties: Ruth Garratt vs. Brian Dailey, a Minor, George Dailey, his Guardian Court and Date Decided: Supreme Court Washington, Department 2, Feb 14, and May 3, 1955 Background ...

  29. Erin Hawley: The Woman Arguing Against the Abortion Pill

    Erin Hawley, a law professor and wife of Senator Josh Hawley, is arguing the Supreme Court case. By Elizabeth Dias and Abbie VanSickle It was 2014, and Erin Morrow Hawley was fighting against the ...

  30. Practice-Ready Licensing

    The recent Building a Better Bar study offers a particularly persuasive picture of the competencies new lawyers need. That study convened 50 focus groups, some with new lawyers and some with supervisors, in 18 locations across the country. The lawyers described the competencies that new lawyers need, the mistakes they make, and the training that would help them avoid those mistakes.