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How To Read Cases In Law School

January 21, 2011 1 comment

Each case or written opinion is comprised of different sections and components.

A well-written opinion usually begins by outlining the legal issue(s) followed by the background facts pertaining to the situation in controversy.  After these two sections comes the procedural posture of the case, which simply means the case’s history with regards to how the courts have ruled on the matter.  Then, the court delves into the “discussion” or legal analysis of the issues.  Last, there is a brief conclusion followed by the court’s ultimate ruling.

Well-written opinions will have headings for each different section.  Unfortunately, however, some cases are not structured as neatly and require the reader to delineate each section on his/her own.  Initially, this may not be as simple as it sounds but over time it becomes second nature.

Eventually, the reader will recognize where one section ends and the next begins.  For example, legal issue sentences usually begin with the word “whether.”  Thus, when the word “whether” appears, you should ask yourself if it is framing the legal issue for the opinion.  If so, you should mark it.  You should also realize that once the legal issue has been stated, a different section should follow.  Continue this practice until you have reached the end of the opinion.

Sections (usually in this order):

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