Digesting cases is a must in the college of law, this is actually regardless if it is being required by your professor or not. Once cases are assigned, a law student must observe due diligence and read these cases.
For freshmen law students, you may be wondering how to make case digests or case briefs. Well, there are a few things to remember and they are:
1. Be aware of the specifics of the case or the syllabus concerned. In one case alone, there could be multiple topics i.e. Political Law, Remedial Law, Civil Law and there could be as many sub-topics i.e. for Political Law there could be Police Power and Eminent Domain. Knowing these can properly guide you with the “theme” of your digests. But usually, you will not have a hard time with this because once cases are assigned; your professor would have specified these in his handouts/syllabus.
2. Read the full text of the case. And when I say read, don’t just breeze through it. Try to understand it the first time. This will save you time because if you understood it on the first reading, you won’t have to keep going back just to read it all over again. Highlighting important texts of the case which are related to the topic you’re on will help you have a coherent grasp of the case.
3. Now after reading the case in full, you’re now ready to write your case digest. In a “formal” case digest, there are five parts which are:
- Caption – This is just the title of the case. It can be as plain as “People vs Juan de la Cruz” or detailed to include the SCRA/SCAD (Supreme Court Reports Annotated/Supreme Court Advance Decisions) number, GR (General Records) number, ponente and the date.
- Facts – This portion is supposed to answer the “Who, What, When, How, Why” stuff of the case.
- Issues – This is the legal conflict or the legal controversy sought to be resolved by the Supreme Court.
- Ruling – This is the decision or jurisprudence laid down by the court.
- Concurring/Dissenting Opinions – These are not always present in all cases and normally they do not place any significance to the current ruling being discussed (but they may serve a significant role in future Supreme Court decisions especially when doctrines are reversed or totally abandoned). These opinions may also be an additional explanation as to how certain justices voted, the wisdom behind their votes, and as to how the decision is reached. Be very wary because some professors would also ask questions pertaining to these opinions – especially when such opinions are adopted as the general rule in some future/later cases.
(I’ll discuss this part in more detail in an upcoming article).
4. Keywords – In writing your digests, make sure to highlight the keywords or the key topic of the case relevant to your subject. These keywords serve as your mental notes during recitation or even during exams.
5. Other things you may want to consider include: how your professor conducts recitation, is your professor more of a “facts” guy or a “court ruling” guy; either way, you can custom make your digests in a way that will make you remember the facts and the jurisprudence of the case. Some students prefer replacing the “characters” with letters like “X” and “Y” but that may not sit well with other professors especially if they are meticulous with the facts of the case.