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Author Topic: Critique my brief  (Read 3186 times)

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Critique my brief
« on: July 29, 2009, 08:17:51 AM »
My law school has sent us a case to brief before orientation, and I went ahead and played around with it.  I'm hoping that some of you guys with more experience can tell me what I did well and what would make my brief better.  Thanks for any comments... here it goes:




McBoyle v. United States, 283 U.S. 25 (1931)
U.S. Supreme Court No. 552


- Supreme Court overturned lower court conviction, finding McBoyle not guilty under the Motor Vehicle Theft Act.
   
- The Supreme Court heard an appeals case by McBoyle, who was originally convicted under the Motor Vehicle Theft Act for transporting an airplane that he knew to be stolen from Illinois to Oklahoma.

- Petitioner argued that an airplane does not fall within the definition of "motor vehicle", under the Act of October 29, 1919, c.89, 41 Stat. 234, U.S. Code, Title 18, 408 which provided that a motor vehicle  includes "an automobile, automobile truck, automobile wagon, motor cycle, or any other self-propelled vehicle not designed for running on rails.  Futhermore, the Tariff Act of 1930 defined a vehicle as: "any contrivance capable of being used as a means of transportation on land."

-The Supreme Court overturned the lower court conviction.  Justice Holmes delivered the opinion, stating that:
   
"When a rule of conduct is laid down in words that evoke only the picture of vehicles moving on land, the statute should not extend to aircraft just because it seems that a similar policy applies or would have had it been thought of."

-With his statement, Holmes concluded that it is inappropriate to make a jump from a clearly defined statute, just because the jump seems logical.  Even though an airplane seems to be a "motor vehicle", the Motor Vehicle Theft Act did not define it as one; therefore, the jump cannot be made that it is one. 
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Susan B. Anthony

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 07:50:21 PM »
You should always brief in a way that you find helpful. There's some discussion of briefing in this thread, though, that you may find useful.

Generally, at least at the beginning, people seem to find it helpful to organize their briefs via a template, rather than as more of a narrative, which can make it easy to find the particular information you're looking for when called on in class/while reviewing. The basic template I used in the beginning:

Heading: this includes the case name, what court the case is in, the date of the decision, and, if it's in your casebook, the page of the casebook (so you can easily and quickly refer back).

Parties: Identify the parties, both as plaintiff/defendant and also by their relationship to one another (e.g., Mr Jones: plaintiff/seller; Mr Smith: defendant/purchaser). This will help you keep them straight as you go through the reasoning/are questioned in class.

Facts: Give a brief (see? hehe) description of the important facts (in many opinions, the judge gives a statement of the facts before getting to the issue. In some opinions, the facts are scattered throughout the analysis). Sometimes the case will go into great detail about the facts, in which case you're going to want to figure out which facts were most important to reaching the decision. Sometimes the opinion will only give a few facts, and they might all be important. You'll probably figure out how to tell pretty quickly what's important; if a fact is directly referenced in the reasoning, you can probably assume that it's important.

Procedural History: This is what's happened (in court) in the case previously. Depending on what court the decision is from, this could be complicated (a Supreme Court case that's been remanded a few times) or virtually non-existent. You may also want to briefly note the reasoning of lower courts, if it's given and seems important.

Issue(s): This is the legal question that the court is deciding, and is often phrased as an is/whether statement. In many opinions, the author will come right out and say "the issue before the court is..." or something similar to indicate the issue.

Holding: The statement of law that comes out of the case. It's the answer to your issue statement.

Reasoning: How the court reached their decision.

Judgment: This will usually be something like affirming or reversing a lower court's decision.


Again, these should all be brief descriptions of what happened. Your goal is not to reproduce the entire opinion in a different format, but rather to have a tool to help you remember what happened in the case. Most briefs shouldn't be more than a page, but should hit the basics of what you discuss in class with respect to that case. Note anything that your professor spends time on that you left out of the brief, and pay attention to whether you're regularly including a bunch of stuff that you never discuss to revise your briefing technique (just because you don't touch on something in class doesn't mean it should've been left out of the brief, but if there's regularly a bunch of stuff in your brief that you don't talk about, it might not be worth your time to include).

The basics I've listed above are by no means the only way to write a brief; unless you've been given specific requirements for your briefs, move things around/combine things/add things/leave things out in a way that's helpful/makes sense for you. As with everything in law school, the important thing is to do what works best for you personally.

EdinTally

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2009, 07:55:40 PM »
Susan hit all the major points.  I'll only add that it might also be helpful to use 5 x 7 index cards.  If you can't fit it on the card, your brief isn't brief.

RobWreck

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2009, 10:22:22 PM »
1 little tip to add to Susan's excellent suggestion: add a single sentance at the bottom of the brief to explain why that case is in the book. Demonstrate an exception to a general principle? Illustrate an element of negligence? Demonstrate a defense? Explanation of pre-emption? Whatever the reason is, figure out why the editor included that case in the textbook and in plain and simple language give that to yourself at the very bottom of your brief. That way, when preparing your outlines for finals you can easily see what role that case plays.
If you keep in mind the questions: (1) why is this case included; and (2) what is the rule going forward from this case, you'll be able to really understand what the cases are there to teach and you won't get bogged down by the details.
Good luck!
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M_Cool

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2009, 10:49:13 PM »
And I'll add my 2 cents about studying for tests and not prepping for class.  If I had this case I'd probably throw it into outline format and do something like:

1.1 a basic tenant of statutory interpretation is that a statute, when plainly and expressly defined, may go no further simply because it is logical (McBoyle)
     1.1.1 e.g. when SC overturned conviction when airplane and not land vehicle stolen (Id.)
     1.1.2 policy: legislature makes the law not court

^ that is what will get you top grades, not writing down a bunch of facts in a brief..  just remember that.

dsetterl

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2009, 11:56:15 PM »
Who writes out actual briefs? Book briefing is the way to go!

RobWreck

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2009, 07:50:55 AM »
Not at the beginning of 1L... writing out actual briefs helps you develop the ability to pick out what's really important in the case. Once you've done it enough times (and for some students, enough times can mean after 3-4 weeks of class) then by all means book brief... but for a brand new 1L, there's value in writing out actual briefs.
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conrad42

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2009, 08:45:31 AM »
to add to the great advice above:

Focus on the why in you brief. Why does one party think an airplane is a motor vehicle? Why does the other party think it is not? Why does the judge decide the way he does? Class discussions of cases focus on the reasoning used by the different parties. The more you can understand that reasoning ahead of time, the better off you will be.

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2009, 09:33:21 AM »
Thanks for all of the great advice.  I have one question- how are we, as beginning students in the law, actually supposed to be able to figure out why the law was included?  To me, all I see in this case is that airplanes aren't considered motor vehicles.  Is that really the big picture I am supposed to get out of this case?
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thorc954

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Re: Critique my brief
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2009, 10:09:01 AM »
Thanks for all of the great advice.  I have one question- how are we, as beginning students in the law, actually supposed to be able to figure out why the law was included?  To me, all I see in this case is that airplanes aren't considered motor vehicles.  Is that really the big picture I am supposed to get out of this case?

Probably all you are supposed to get out of it.  One thing you will learn is that sometimes in law school you need to take things at face value.  Cases often only provide you with insight like that.  That simple.  The only logic/analysis you will have to do is when your prof gives you an exam and you have to decide whether a blimp (or something like that) is closer to how they define a motor vehicle or closer to how they define airplanes.  The case could be as simple as that.

Dont stress law school.  Most people graduate (at least at the respectable schools) and most people get jobs after, and I assume most people are able to pay back their loans when they are done.

Enjoy yourself and try not to be too worried about the whole thing.  Very few people know what to do in law school when they first start (I had no clue how to brief, how to outline, or really what we would do in class).  Before you start, watch Paper Chase, get scared, then go to school and realize that its not scary and its not difficult and you aren't the only one that is learning as you go.