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Author Topic: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!  (Read 1736 times)

Mirage1959

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Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« on: June 10, 2005, 08:01:07 AM »
With so many theories floating around on how to tackle law school, I thought I would pick one that is controversial - briefing. There seems to be three primary schools of thought: write out briefs, book brief or use canned briefs.

I would like to hear from experienced students - what did you do? Did one work better than the other? Did you migrate from one to another? Does any of it matter for anything other than the Socratic Method?

lawgirl

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2005, 08:08:16 AM »
Everyone has their own way of doing things and certain ways that seem to help them more than others. My personal opinion is that it really does help, especially during 1L, to do the full written briefs. It does help for the Socratic method, but it also helps you retain the information when you are studying for exams. I later migrated to book briefing. I have never used the canned briefs. I think they are ok to supplement your own reading, but I don't believe in using them in place of doing the reading.

Coregram

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2005, 08:53:13 AM »
I agree with LawGirl, although for pure exam prep you could probably get away with using canned briefs, commercial outlines, and E&E books.

But I'd also add that you have to develop the skill of reading cases, finding the holding, understanding the reasoning, and determining which facts were relevant and which weren't to the holding.  These skills are essential when you have to research an issue (a question of law) using cases and write and support your postition in memos, court briefs, etc.  You probably won't write out a classroom style case brief for every case you look at during your research, but you will need to "mentally" brief cases you find to see if you can use them and what parts to use.  It's tough to develop those skills without going through the process of writing out briefs, at least at the beginning.

Once you are comfortable writing out briefs, you can book brief.  Book briefing is merely putting the information you would have put in a written brief in a summary form in the margins of the book and noting where the words in the textbook are, as opposed to writing them on a separate piece of paper.  You still need to read the case and find the relevant portions; the process is the same, but you document it for your reference in the book.

Canned briefs are OK in a pinch (i.e. you couldn't prepare for a class) or as a guide to check your written or book brief.  But I wouldn't rely on them exclusively very often.  Also, I've found sometimes they aren't quite correct, or leave out facts, etc. that your professor might think important.  Also, some professors know what is and isn't in them, so you can be asked about facts, etc. that are in the case but not in the brief.

Lenny

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2005, 09:08:08 AM »
I too started out full briefing and actually did it all through first year.  It takes a lot of time, but I found it helpful for a few reasons.  First, it allowed me to get ahead because I could just look at my brief before class to refresh my memory.  It also trained me to approach a case in an organized fashion, a skill that is invaluable when approaching an exam fact pattern.  I no longer full brief because after first year you are just better at retaining the facts and the classes change in dynamic.  Now, as for the people that rely solely on commercial briefs and outlines, I hope they enjoy their straight Bs.  Sure, they may actually know the black letter law better than I do come exam study time, but that stuff is easily learned if you already have the context for it.  The difference between a B exam and an A exam is the presentation.  Reading the full cases exposes you to the way the greatest lawyers write.  That certain flow and strength of assertion is the intangible variable that separates a correct exam from a great exam.  Do the reading.  You only do law school once, so you might as well do it right.

jdohno

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2005, 09:15:58 AM »
I concur in part with Coregram. Intially, briefing can help you with legal writing, etc. However, there is a disconnect between briefing and exams. With briefing you already get the facts, the holding, etc. Most times you just have to pulled out the law. With exams, you have to apply the law to the fact pattern. In that case, hypos are more connected to the analyis you have to do on your exams. Your exams are the only thing in law school that your grades are based on. Briefs are for you. They are just so the professor can get class discussions going. You will never get an exam asking you to brief the case, etc.

Personally, I didn't really brief. I did a lot of hypos. I didn't book brief but I used an abbrievated briefing system for the classes where the professors require something. More times then not, I used canned briefs but I also read the cases. Canned briefs are really for the professors who fully go through the motions in class. In my classes, no one finish reciting their briefs before the professor started with the questions. You do not "brief" the law school way in the real world. Once I found out that hypos were better preparation for my exams. I focus on them and outlining my courses. Most of my classmates who briefed regularly did poorly on their exams. This year I did extremely well. Law school is about finding whatever works for you. Most people abandon briefing after they get back their first semester grades. It's as if they need proof that briefing really is a waste of time. And for a few people, briefing seems to work for them. Either way keep your eyes on the big picture, your grades are only based on exams. You should work throughout the semester in ways that prepare you for your exams. Don't fall into the trap of trying to relearn and learn everything in November or right before your exams.

birddog

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2005, 01:43:52 PM »
I agree with the above posts.  I would recommend that any new student try all the methods to figure out what works best for them.  I realized that when I briefed I spent more time worrying about formatting and copying from the book than thinking about the case.  So I just started taking notes in the margain (I never tried color-coded briefing because I found that people tended to just hightlight everything cause it was easy to do - some people had the most colorful books!).  I also generally put a note under the title of the case stating what the question was and what teh holding was to refresh my memory.

Often what I did depended on the prof and how they asked questions in class: some want to know holding, some want to know facts, some want to know how the dissent differs from majority.  Sometimes if I felt I just wasn't getting it or if I didn't have time to read, I'd go to the canned briefs.

I would, however, recommend that students not rely on canned briefs their first year.  You gotta learn how to read a case - parse out the underlying reasoning, etc.  When you start as a summer (or your first research assignment in law school) you'll have to read tons of cases and you need to know where to look to find the law, how to skim over the dicta, etc.  If you never struggle through the cases your first year, you don't learn this skill.

In the end, don't be afraid to do what works best for you even if it isn't what everyone else is doing.

rapunzel

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2005, 06:14:18 PM »
The key, as everyone has mentioned, is finding the system that works for you.  Also, each class will need it's own system.  The prof will focus on different things and the material with be organized differently. 

As was stated, briefing is great to learn how to read a case.  I stopped formally briefing after 2 weeks in the first year.  It did not help me to take the time.  I still a reasonable amount of my assigned reading and I write notes in the margins (book briefing).  However, the briefing format helps focus my reading.  Case reading is an extremely important skill.  I'm doing a summer associateship and most of my assignments involve researching legal issues, reading the case law and wrting a legal memo intended to solve a specific legal issue.  That is the skill you must learn. 
However, it is my opinion that this skill is masterable without reading every case in law school.  Besides, the casebook cases are edited, so they aren't quit as valuable in some respects.  You will read tons of cases to write your appellant brief, you will have time to learn this skill there.  So if reading the cases isn't helping you in let's say Torts (hint, hint, flashcards), then there is a place to carve out some time.

For example, this year I had Con Law.  The assigned reading was monumental.  The cases are complex and incredibly long.  The prof wanted people to come to class reading to do impromtu oral arguments.  The tests were sets if 6 questions from an appellant panel to be answered as if in oral arguments (read, no issue spotting.  Instead, short, well crafted arguments addressing only the narrow question at issue).  So to do well in this class you needed to be abel to articulate certain tests and make an argument.  Spending all day in those giant cases was not the best use of my time.  So I tackled the reading like this- I read all of the notes, intorductions and short notes cases within my assignments.  I read all of the text of any major cases (Roe, Lawrence v. Texas, etc).  I read the brief written in the High Court Case Briefs for every other full case.  This had me through the reading in half the time of my classmates.  But I had the tools I needed to aquit myself well if I was called on in class and I had time to enter into debates over the issues with my study group.  These two things were the key to being ready to make an oral argument on the exam. 

Meanwhile for Evidence, I just quickly read through the cases.  I took Trial Ad at the same time.  So I was making actaul evidence arguments in that class.  I didn't need to do much more than that to be ready.  In Corp, the prof gave out detailed coursebooks coresponding to powerpoitn presentations from class.  I barely cracked the book because haviong done some research with former students I knew that he was literally going to cover 95% of the tested material in class and in his coursebooks.  Yes, the very top test grades would go to those who actually read the book, but you could get a very decent grade without it (which I did).  The time I saved was devoted to Trial Ad, which was worth more credits and was aligned with my career goals.  That tiem allocation paid off handsomely with a 5 credit A.

To sum up the antecdotal review, a stategy is necessary for each class.  Read and brief what you need to, but carefully consider the areas that should get your focus.  I woudld strongly suggest that all first years take their legal research and writing class very seriously as those are the skills that your next employer will be seeking.  That may mean careful evaluation of how much effort you want to put into briefing Torts (which is truly the easiest class is law school once you figure out that you just need to memorize the rules (flashcards!) and then make legal arguments from both sides on your exam- which is a skill you will learn in legal writing class).

The most important thing to know is that your learning in law school is not passive.  You have to activly design a regimine of study that prepares you for exams.  To the extent that briefing helps you prepare for exams, it is good.  Any purpose beyond that, like trying to look flawlessly poised in class, is misplaced effort.  You will get grilled or flustered one day in class or have to pass, and you will find out that nobody really cares.  Your in class performance and preparation does not necessarily corelate to your ability to write law school exams, which in the end, is what will matter.

landauer

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2005, 07:27:45 PM »
i've heard some people use e-Legalines

http://www.gilbertlaw.com/bookstore/elegalines.asp

jdohno

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2005, 11:24:23 PM »
Rapunzel,
I disagree with a few things you said in your post. But it's more of a matter of personal preference. I want to compliment you on such a great post.

I just want to add again that hypos are extremely important for preparing for your exams. And I absolutely concur with an important thing you said in your post. Your day to day class performance doesn't matter. Being embarrassed or flustered in class means nothing when it comes down to exam time. Because I didn't brief, I was embarrassed in class every so often. One of my professors tried to insult me for not having a brief and I pointed out to him that the exam is all that matters. He made this big show of marking something on his sheet before he went to the next student. I'm sure my classmates thought I got marked down or something. I was a little rattled the rest of the day but I remember two important things. The grading for your exams is blind and the syllabus for my class clearly stated that the grade was 100% based on the exam. I ended up with a A both semesters in that class.



rapunzel

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Re: Brief, Book Brief or Canned Briefs...that is the question!
« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2005, 10:30:40 AM »
Haha, good for you.  There are a lot of theatrics with first year to keep everyone nervous and in line.  People who publically buck that system help bring a little reality to the classroom. 

I'll second the hypos.  I do them with my study group and we always do practice exams.  My list wasn't exhautive of the work I do, just an attempt to be illustrative of how I prioritize.  Everyone's system will be different, but everyone must make choices about how they spend their time.  Some people get a lot out of briefing.