April 6, 2009
Beginners Brief Best By Briefing Backward
When preparing my briefing workshop this semester, it occurred to me how hard it was to create a well formatted issue statement. Think about it: one of the most common formats for an issue is: whether [most crucial fact of case] constitutes [crucial element of rule] where [most relevant facts of case]. So the issue statement might be easier to formulate after students understood the facts. But understanding which facts are relevant and which are distracters is hard before students understand the rule and the reasoning. Even the rule is hard to put together in a cohesive, well-articulated format as a first step.
So then it occurred to me that it might be easier for students to brief backward: conclusion (who won), reasons (where they can piece together discreet information), rule, issue, and then facts.
When I proposed this idea to my students, they all looked at me like I had two heads. (Don’t I wish!) But, a few days later, many of these same students popped by my office with light bulbs flashing above their heads, indicating they understood the cases better and faster using this technique.
I more fully explain the logic behind this technique and why it could be easier for novice law students in the Teaching Methods Newsletter, Winter 2008, on page 7.
By Hillary Burgess
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