How To Write Case Law Essay

There are countless ways to stylistically complete an academic essay.  Here are some examples of how students have successfully done so, while maintaining proper academic structure.

Introduction

A proper introduction should:

  • Introduce main arguments
  • Have an attention grabbing first sentence 
  • Provide concise information about broader significance of topic
  • Lead in to the body of the essay
 

Here are three examples of introduction paragraphs.  They have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers. For a close reading of the examples, click the images below.

 

Example 1Example 2Example 3

 

The Body

The body of your essay should:

  • Address one idea per paragraph
  • Support arguments with scholarly references or evidence
  • Contextualise any case studies or examples 

Style

  • Use correct punctuation and proofread your work
  • Keep writing impersonal (do not use 'I', 'we', 'me')
  • Be concise and simple 
  • Be confident ("The evidence suggests..." rather than "this could be because...")
  • Connect paragraphs so they flow and are logical
  • Introduce primary and secondary sources appropriately
  • Avoid using too many quotations or using quotes that are too long
  • Do not use contractions (you’re, they’d)
  • Do not use emotive language ("the horrific and extremely sad scene is evidence of...")

This example illustrates how to keep an essay succinct and focused, by taking the time to define the topic:

Defining a topic

The following paragraphs demonstrate how to engage with a variety of scholarly material including primary sources, scholarly theories and formal statistics:

Introducing sources

Lastly, this paragraph illustrates how to engage with opposing arguments and refute them:

Conclusion

A proper conclusion should:
  • Sum up arguments
  • Provide relevance to overall topic and unit themes
  • Not introduce new ideas 
Here are two examples of conclusion paragraphs which have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers.

Example 1                                                           Example 2

 

What is a case note?

The term 'case note' can be confusing.  Sometimes it means a summary, based on an analysis of the case.  However, it can also mean a summary plus a critical commentary.  Check the assignment instructions.  If the assignment is divided into sections, with separate word limits and marks stipulated, then make sure you answer using these divisions.  You may need two, three or even four separate sections.  If these divisions are not stipulated, then you may combine the discussion using the topics as guidelines. Check with your lecturer, if in doubt.

Regardless of the structure,  your assignment needs to be written in full: no dot points, no table format or any other note-taking style is permitted.  The summary needs to be written in cohesive paragraphs, citing the given case, and using your own words throughout.  The key sections involve analysing the ratio.  The critique will be structured in an essay format - introduction with thesis statement, body with sub-headings and topic sentences per paragraph, conclusion emphasising your argument. 

What goes into a case summary? 

This is your understanding of the case in your own words (so quotes are not needed), as briefly and succinctly as possible (aim at less than 10% of the word count, or else proportional to the marks).  It should include (order may vary):

  • the case citation (choose the most authoritative report series)
  • parties (legal terminology) and brief facts
  • type of court and history of the case
  • date(s) 
  • judge(s)

and should then objectively cover the major aspects of the judgment, including:

  • the major arguments presented by counsel
  • ratio per judge, including commentary on the arguments presented
  • decision.

Read your assignment instructions carefully to make sure you are emphasising those areas highlighted by your lecturers.    Make your initial notes on a case, with some 'prompts' to move from the summary to the critique. This document is intended to help your reading, but you will need to be selective about what you include in your summary. 

See below for an example of some notes taken for a case summary.

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