What are Case Law Studies?

L. Dunne

Case law studies are used to help students develop the necessary skills to understand legal cases. Usually, appellate court cases are used for these studies. The case is scrutinized using five steps. Upon completion of the study, students should be able to explain the facts, the legal issues, the decision, and the dissent, if applicable. Moreover, students should understand the impact the decision has and will have in the future.

Case law studies help students develop needed skills to understand the legal thinking behind court cases.
Case law studies help students develop needed skills to understand the legal thinking behind court cases.

The first part of case law studies identifies the facts of the case. Students must be able to name all the parties to a lawsuit and to identify the dispute or events leading to the lawsuit. Next, the students need to determine if this was the first trial or if there were previous lower court rulings. If there were previous rulings, they need to be identified. All of the facts and previous rulings must be clear before moving on to the other elements of the case.

Students are then asked to find the legal question the court has been asked to answer. They should be able to define and formulate arguments for both sides of the issue. In some instances, there may be more than one legal question raised by the case. If the case law studies focus on appellate court cases, the original legal questions should be understood as well as the issues in any subsequent appeals. Without being able to determine the legal issues and understand each argument, students will be unable to grasp the decision or its importance.

When reviewing a case, students should be able to understand why it was decided in the way it was. Throughout case law studies, students need to be able to explain how the information from the previous steps contributes to the final decision. At this point, students should be able to pinpoint the legal reasons for the ruling, including any precedents. If a dissent was written, the students should understand its argument.

The last area case law studies examine is the impact of decisions. If a ruling was made years ago, the students should be able to discuss the immediate and current impact of the decision. If the case was decided recently, students may discuss the immediate impact and predict effects to come. Finally, students should understand the changes required of any other branches of government because of the decision.

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