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How to Analyze Case Law

Last Updated: January 21, 2023 References Approved

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. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 95% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 105,053 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.

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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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How To Analyse A Law Case

The two previous blogs have focused on developing legal knowledge through exploring topical issues in the field of law. This article hopes to show you as prospective law students how to go about gaining legal analysis skills through using case materials. Hopefully, by viewing a sample case report (my own) – you will be able to access cases online and come up with your own (hours of limitless fun)!

Warning: The first time you look at a case, or a case report, the language and legal questions can appear confusing and difficult to understand. DO NOT GIVE UP. It will get easier and easier – and will put you in a good position if you decide to become a law student.

The Facts: R (Osborn) v Parole Board [2013]

Judgment: Lord Reid

Appeal was granted.

Case Analysis Technique

Questions to consider:

Q. Did Lord Reid have his eye on the repealing the Human Rights Act debate (see previous blog)? [Therefore wanting to grant protection if it were to be removed.]

Q. Is this case trying to combat government concerns for expenses and public justice? [What may be costly in the short term (i.e. an oral hearing), may end up saving money in the long run.]

Hopefully, this sample case report has shown you the structure of what is important when you read a case. It’s important to try and go beyond the text and think about the potential impact of the case, and contextualise it in legal trends. It’s not easy – however, just as Lord Reid states, What is time consuming in the short term – may end up providing dividends in the long run.

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Critical Analysis of Case Law: Are Partnering Charters Binding?

Major professor, committee member, journal title, journal issn, volume title, research projects, organizational units, journal issue.

Construction project partnering in the United States has been used successfully for nearly 30 years in reducing disputes. Most partnered projects are characterized by the joint development of a nonbinding partnering charter between the owner and the contractor, which encapsulates the project’s goals and lays out the desired process for resolving issues at the lowest level. This paper explores the outcomes when partnered projects fail and the parties involved must turn to the courts to settle their disputes. The paper evaluates the case law for 16 partnered projects through content analysis and cross-case comparison. The paper explores the question of whether the good faith and fair dealing (GFFD) doctrine applies to partnering charters, potentially rendering them binding. The paper finds that while the courts have not yet directly applied GFFD to make a charter binding, there is sufficient cause to consider giving it the force of the contract.

This is a manuscript of an article published as Pinto Nunez, Milagros, and Douglas D. Gransberg. "Critical Analysis of Case Law: Are Partnering Charters Binding?" Journal of Legal Affairs and Dispute Resolution in Engineering and Construction 11, no. 1 (2019): 06518005. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)LA.1943-4170.0000283 . Posted with permission.



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Law: Case note

how to critically analyse case law

A case note presents an overview and analysis of a legal case. It is usually divided into two parts: a case summary and a case analysis/research assignment . The case summary (sometimes called the ‘case note’) provides a description of the facts, procedural history and legal reasoning of a case. The case analysis involves a discussion of the judgment’s impact and the legal implications of the case. In this resource you will learn about researching and writing a case note assignment.

Five tips for case note assessments View

Navigating this resource.

You can navigate the pages in this resource by either clicking on the page links here or by clicking the navigation buttons below.

Understanding case notes and marker expectations

Identifying the elements of a case note, using materials, reading and writing strategies.

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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6 Steps To Write A Flawless Legal Case Study

As a law student, you will need to get through complex case studies and present accurate analysis of those cases. But anyone pursuing a law degree knows that working on such case study analysis is, by no means, simple. However, most of the time, the difficulty arises from the lack of understanding about how to approach the legal case study analysis.

Now, if you’re having the same difficulty in preparing a legal case study, then you need to learn about the steps properly and go through some legal case analysis examples . The steps of preparing legal case studies are elaborated below.

Steps to Prepare A Legal Case Study Analysis

Step 1: read the case thoroughly.

You should carefully go through the case at least once until you can figure out which facts are most vital for the case or begin analysing the court’s holding. It’s hard to accurately determine what was central to the court’s reasoning until you’ve read the case all the way through.

The first time you go through a case, don’t think about figuring it all out at once. Just read to get a sense of what’s happening, who the major parties are, and what they want the court to do.

Step 2: Outline the case’s procedural history

All written court decisions consist of a case that has been through at least one round of appeal. Hence, as a law student, you should be able to identify the path this particular case followed from the initial lawsuit to the court proceedings that ultimately developed the opinion you’re reading.

The procedural history elaborates on the role of the litigants, and thus it imperative to know what each of them is identified as throughout the written opinion. You need to also understand how the case moved through the court system, who sued whom, and who appealed in order to prepare a solid analysis.

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 this dispute will be significant to the holding of the case. To evaluate the legal case, you must decipher which parts of the story are relevant to the issue highlighted in the court that made the decision.

In many cases, the initial information that prompted the dispute may be summed up in a sentence or two. Often, what’s really essential is what happened afterwards. Just like Samsung SWOT analysis for reference.

Step 4: Present the issue as a yes/no question

The easiest way to decipher a court’s analysis and reasoning of the legal issue is to create a question that relates to the case. You can phrase the question in a manner that can be answered with a straight yes or no.

In many cases, the issue before the court may raise multiple yes/no questions, or a few follow-up questions that are based on the answer to the first. This usually happens when a specific factual situation present in the case has never been explored by any other court. The court must first understand whether a particular law is applicable to that factual situation at all before it can determine how the law applies.

Step 5: Provide the court’s answer to the question

After you’ve rephrased your issue as a question that can be addressed with a yes or no, in many cases, the court’s answer will be one of these words. However, some cases may also involve more nuanced response, like “sometimes” or “maybe.”

Some judges possess a clear, simple writing style, and they’ll phrase the issue as a question and address it directly. However, this isn’t ideally the case. In most written opinions, you will have to determine for the question and answer all by yourself.

Step 6: Emphasis on the facts that the court found most important

Among the relevant facts you’ve already identified related to a specific legal case, some will be more significant than others because they reflect the reason the court decided on one rule over another.

Sometimes the simple way to find the court’s fact/facts is to think about what would have happened if they’d decided to focus on a different fact. Even though many other details may be relevant, or important to the case, those aren’t the information that made the court rule the way it did.

These steps will ensure that your legal case study analysis turns out perfect.

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Andy Alvin is an education consultant at a reputed firm in the United States. He is also associated with MyAssignmenthelp.com as a part-time online tutor.

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Legal Research: An Overview: Validating Your Research

Why Validate Your Research?

It happens.  Cases get reversed, overruled, or superseded.  They also get criticized and distinguished.  The only way you can know if your case is still good law is to validate your research.  "Validating" your case research means to run your case through a citator service to see if there are subsequent legal authorities that invalidate your case and then reading those cases that negatively impact your case.

As discussed in more detail below, Westlaw, Lexis & Bloomberg, each have their own citator services.  Each citator service is quite good, but is important to keep in mind that these citators are fallible.  Each is only as good as its algorithm and its editors.  For most cases that you cite in your documents, it is fine to rely on one service.  However, if there is a case that truly is critical to your analysis, you would be wise to run it through a second citator service to double check that you case is good law.

To Cite or Not To Cite?: Evaluating Negative Citing References

Determining whether your case is still good law requires reviewing the citator report to see if your case was reversed, overruled, or superseded.  It is also possible that your case could be so roundly criticized or so thoroughly distinguished by other cases that you may not want to rely on it.  To determine the validity of your case, you must review those cases that offer negative treatment of your case.

There are several types of negative treatment.  Cases that have been reversed, overruled, or superseded are no longer good law and typically should not be relied upon.  However, sometimes cases are simply reversed/overruled/superseded in part, or sometimes the issue on which the case was reversed/overruled/superseded is not the issue for which you are using the case.  In those circumstances, you may decide that you can, in fact, cite to the case.  The only way to determine the extent to which you can rely upon a reversed/overruled/superseded case is to carefully  READ THE CASES  that indicated that your case was reversed/overruled/superseded.  There is simply no shortcut or substitute for reading those cases.  If you assume you cannot rely upon a certain case based solely on the citator report, without actually reading the negative treatment cases, you may end up losing the opportunity to cite to case that is valid for your issue and supports your position.

Other types of negative treatment include other cases distinguishing, disagreeing with, or criticizing your case.  These types of negative treatment tend to not invalidate your case, but you should still evaluate these negative treatment cases to see if they compromise your reliance on the original case.  For example, there might be a case that distinguishes your original case, and the distinguishing case is more factually similar to your issue than the original case.  In that circumstance, you probably would not want to rely on the original case.  

Accordingly, when you see references to cases that include this kind of negative treatment that does not tend to invalidate your case, you should  READ THE CASES  to determine the extent to which you want to rely on your original case.

Sometimes there are such a large quantity of these kinds of negative treatment cases that it impractical to read them all.  Some tips for narrowing the quantity of cases that you must read include focusing on cases:

Citators: Shepard's, KeyCite & BCite

KeyCite® is the citator in Westlaw.  KeyCite, quite literally, flags cases that are not good law.  Also, Key Cite provides a report of all the instances that a case has been treated negatively in other courts.

When you pull up a case in Westlaw, there are tabs that appear immediately under the case title that give you information about the case history, negative treatment by other cases, and citing references.  For all cases that you think you may rely upon, you should click on the "History" tab to review the case history.  This is important, even if there is no negative treatment (discussed below), as the case history can identify important case information, such as whether there may be an appeal pending.

This is an example of what you would see from clicking on the History tab:

If a case has negative treatment identified by Westlaw, next to the case name, Westlaw will include a red, yellow, or blue striped flag.  A red flag, as in the above sample, means a case is no longer good for at least one point of law.  A yellow flag means that a case has some negative treatment but has not been reversed or overruled.  A blue striped flag means that a case has been appealed to a U.S. Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.  If there is no flag, then Westlaw has not identified any negative treatment for the case.

When you pull up a case that has been flagged, in addition to the "History" tab, you also should click on the tab marked "Negative Treatment" to get the full negative history report.

The negative history report for the red flagged case identified above, looks like:

The report identifies that the case was reversed and also was distinguished by two other cases. 

While helpful, you cannot rely solely on these flags and notations to determine the extent to which you can use any given case.  As discussed in more detail in the discussion at the left regarding evaluating negative citing references, sometimes the issue on which the case was flagged is not the issue for which you are using the case.  The only way to determine the extent to which you can rely upon a case with negative treatment is to carefully READ THE CASES  that treat your case negatively.

For more information on using KeyCite, see the Westlaw User Guide for Checking Citations in KeyCite  and other tutorials available from the Westlaw Training & Support Center .

Shepard's® is the citator in Lexis.  Shepard's indicates when cases are no longer good law.  Also, Shepard's identifies instances when a case has been treated negatively by other cases.

When you pull up a case in Lexis, there are indicators that appear next to the case name to signal if the case is good law.  A red stop sign indicates that a case may have been overruled or reversed.  An orange box with the letter "Q" inside means that the validity of a case may be in question, such as when a case is superseded.  A yellow triangle means that a case has other negative treatment such a being distinguished, limited, or criticized. For more information, see Shepard's Editorial Phrases .

This is an example of what a red stop sign case looks like:

how to critically analyse case law

To the right of the case name, as can be seen above, there is a box marked "Shepard's®" with certain summary information about negative case treatment and other citing references.  You should always click on the link to "Shepardize® the document" to see the full Shepard's report of case history, negative treatment, and other citing references.

When you access the full Shepard's Report, you will see separate tabs on the left to view the case history, citing cases, other citing sources, and other available information.  It is recommended that you at least skim each of these for cases you intend on using.

If you pull up the Shepard's report for the above case, and click on "Appellate History," you would see:

how to critically analyse case law

To see all citing cases, including other negative treatment cases identified by Lexis, you must click on "Citing Decisions."  That generates a list of all the cases, identified by Lexis, that have cited to your case.  At the left of that list is a series of filters that will allow you to narrow the results.  The filters include "Analysis," which allows you to view the negative treatment cases only.

For example, if you clicked on "Citing Decisions" for the above case, and then selected "Questioned", under the "Analysis" menu, you would see:

how to critically analyse case law

While helpful, you cannot rely solely on these indicators and notations to determine the extent to which you can use any given case.  As discussed in more detail in the discussion at the left regarding evaluating negative citing references, sometimes the issue on which the case was treated negatively is not the issue for which you are using the case.  The only way to determine the extent to which you can rely upon a case with negative treatment is to carefully  READ THE CASES  that treat your case negatively.

BCite is the citator in Bloomberg.  BCite indicates when cases are no longer good law. Also, BCite identifies instances when a case has been treated negatively by other cases.

When you pull up a case in Bloomberg, there are indicators, referred to as "operators," that appear next to the case name.  A red box with a minus sign in it indicates that the case has been overruled in full or in part.  An orange box with a circle in it indicates that the case has been superseded by statute.  A yellow box with a triangle in it indicates that the case has been criticized.  A blue box with a slash in it indicates that the case has been distinguished.  For more information about these and other operators, see Bloomberg Law Citator, BCite Operators .

This is an example of what a red box case looks like:

To the right of the case name, as can be seen above, there is a column with three icons, the middle of which is "BCite Analysis." Clicking on that icon will open up a column with BCite information, allowing you to review case history, negative case analysis, and other information.  The BCite column looks like:

Use the links provided in this column to navigate to a list of the cases identified by Bloomberg for each category.  When you access the case lists, you will see a series of filters on the left of the list that will allow you to narrow the results.

For example, to see the cases that distinguish the above case, click on the link "Distinguished" to see:

While helpful, you cannot rely solely on these operators and notations to determine the extent to which you can use any given case.  As discussed in more detail in the discussion at the left regarding evaluating negative citing references, sometimes the issue on which the case was treated negatively is not the issue for which you are using the case.  The only way to determine the extent to which you can rely upon a case with negative treatment is to carefully  READ THE CASES  that treat your case negatively.

For more information on using BCite, see the  Bloomberg Law Product Help page for BCite .

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Trinity College Law Review (TCLR) | Trinity College Dublin

First Year Tip Series: Introduction to Case Notes

Ben conlon, senior editorial board (online editor).

A case note is something that every law student is asked to write at some point in their studies and, without some direction, can be a daunting task. This article aims to briefly explain what a case note is, what the benefits of writing a case note are, and how to actually write a case note. Further information is also included at the end of the piece about the Gernot Biehler Case Note competition.

What is a Case Note?

A case note is a summary and analysis of a single case, as opposed to an article, which examines an area of law. A case note should outline the facts of the case, as well as its ratio decedendi , and also provide a critical analysis of the decision. The analysis should concern the correctness of the decision, with reference to case law, accepted logic and academic opinion. A good case note usually contains analysis of the effect that the decision may have on future cases, especially if the decision is a departure from a previously settled point of law.

What to Keep in Mind when Selecting a Case

If you have the option of selecting the case you would like to write on, below are some factors you should keep in mind:

How to Write a Case Note

(A) Research

As with any piece of legal writing, the first step in writing a case note is conducting the necessary research. Read the case multiple times and note down the facts and the ratio decedendi . The case should be read in the context of the area of law as a whole; understanding how the case relates to existing principles and case law is key in forming a critique and analysis. Further consideration should be given to whether the law is still relevant, and whether it is still considered to be a strong precedent. While a case note tends not to rely on academic sources as much as a legal essay, it is still worth exploring academic commentary around the case, from which a greater perspective can be gleaned.

(B) Writing

There is no rigid structure for how a case note should be written, but this article will attempt to lay out a basic structure and guide for writing the case note itself. It is worth noting that many brilliant case notes do not follow this structure, and can often depart from it dramatically, so there is no pressure to follow this structure.

As is the case in most legal writing, it is generally recommended that the piece is broken down into separate headings. This can make the case note easier to follow, and direct the reader to the important elements of the piece. When writing a case note for a legal journal or a university assignment, regard should be had for the word-count when deciding on how specific the headings are; if there is a lower word-count, it might make sense to merge some of the headings together.

(i) The Introduction

The introduction of a case note should introduce the case and indicate the court in which it was decided. It should lay out the structure of the case note, explain the significance of the case (i.e. the change in the law brought about by the case), and briefly outline your opinion of the case.

(ii) The Facts of the Case

The second section of the case note should briefly outline the facts of the case. It is important to keep in mind that a case note is not simply a summary of a case; the facts simply set out the background for your analysis. Due to this, this section of the case note should not be too long, and the aim should be to illustrate the facts that were relevant in the court’s reasoning, rather than the entirety of the factual circumstances. This is generally a good place to mention the decisions of the lower courts in relation to the case at hand.

(iii) The Decision and the Ratio Decidendi

This section of the case note should deal with the reasoning that lead to the court’s decision, and specific emphasis should be placed on the key decisions and the ratio decedendi . Here, detail should be provided on the case law that the court either relied on or moved away from, and a short explanation of the reasoning behind such moves should be given. The way that the decision was handled should also be mentioned (e.g. was the judgment suspended to allow the government to amend the issue?), as this is often indicative of the attitude of the courts in relation to the issue at hand.

(iv) Critical Analysis/Further Discussion

The primary aim of a case note is to critically analyse a particular decision and the effect it has on the law. “Critically analyse” can be a confusing phrase, so considering some of the following questions may be a useful starting point:

It is worth noting that “critically analyse” does not mean you have to disagree with a judgment; the best critical analysis praises some aspects of a judgment, and attacks others. Commentary on previous related decisions may help to inform your opinion on a case, and help with the critical analysis. It is recommended that some thought is given to how the case may have a lasting impact, and it should be acknowledged whether or not the case might be open to appeal. However, as in any legal piece, it is advisable that a certain degree of critical analysis is woven throughout the piece, rather than isolated to one section.

(v) Conclusion

The conclusion should very briefly summarise the decision, the flaws and achievements that have been discussed throughout the case note, and your overall opinion. A general rule for any piece of writing is that new substantive arguments that have not been discussed in the body of the piece should not be introduced in the conclusion. Finally, some concluding remarks could be offered about the effect of the case on that area of law, and how future cases may be influenced by it.

Some Final Tips

As is the case with any piece of legal writing, there should be a cohesive thread of argument that runs through the case note, but this may be difficult to  pick up on  after several hours of writing by yourself.  As a result, the argument you have crafted might make sense to you, but not to a new reader. One of the best ways to deal with this is to ask someone else to read over the piece and offer some of their own comments.

While it is always advised to read through previous academic pieces written on your chosen area, make sure when citing academics that you are also evaluating their arguments to the reader. Do you agree with what the academic has said? How does their argument bolster yours? Or, how would you refute what the academic has argued? Analysing the academic commentary you have utilised is key to presenting critical analysis in your piece.

In the same vein, when presenting your arguments, it is recommended that you recognise ‘the other side.’ This is particularly important in controversial areas of law, like socio-economic rights, where presenting a one-sided argument will reflect poorly on the author’s critical analysis.

As a final note, the TCLR Online has published many case notes, and reading over these can help you to form a picture of what a case note looks like, and what a case note should contain. Many longer case notes have also been published in the print version of the TCLR, which can be found on the legal article database Heinonline.

The Gernot Biehler Case Note Competition

The Trinity College Law Review runs an annual case note competition in honour of Dr. Gernot Biehler. Dr. Biehler was a distinguished fellow of Trinity College and a lecturer in international law and conflicts of law, who died aged 48. Dr. Biehler was a keen supporter of the work of the Law Review.

The competition is open to first and second year undergraduate students from all universities. Case notes are subject to a word limit of 3,000 words excluding footnotes, and the deadline for submitting your entry is the 17th January 2020. The winning entry is published in the print journal of the Trinity College Law Review, and the winner receives a cash prize of €250. More information on the competition can be found at www.trinitycollegelawreview.org/submissions/ .

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