All rights reserved. William R. Slomanson 1999--2009. For use with Fundamental Perspectives on International Law (5th ed. Thomson, 2006) and Instructor's Manual. Because of numerous adoptions at non-law graduate and undergraduate institutions, this page is offered to provide some guidance and resources about how to read a legal case.

The cases in the text and on the Course Web Page are drawn from all corners of the globe. In "common law" countries, such as Canada, England, and the US, judges are given a comparatively wide latitude of discretion when interpreting legislation or the application of prior case law to a new case. In "civil law" countries, the judge has far less latitude. This difference sometimes makes case reading somewhat challenging when judges both both systems are members of the the same bench--as in the International Court of Justice.

.......................................... Basic "IRAC" Case Method
To effectively read a case, you might employ an "IRAC" structure for legal case analysis: Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. Begin by first considering the general subject of the section of the text from which the case is assigned. That will help you identify the context for the court's analysis. For example, the International Court of Justice Iran Hostage Case is in Chapter 7 of the textbook dealing with diplomatic relations--specifically, the subsection on diplomatic immunities.

The essential issue you will analyze and discuss in class will deal with some feature of the diplomatic immunities addressed in that part of the chapter. Look for the essential issue which the court must decide to solve the legal problem presented by the facts (succinctly summarized in the "Author's Note" segment at the outset of each case in the book). Thus, the central issue is likely to focus on what specific immunities are enjoyed by diplomats (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or VCDR)--and whether the host nation (Iran) failed to honor its relevant treaty commitments.

One of the rules identified in the Iran Hostage Case is that Iran--even if it did not incite the crowds to storm the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979--nevertheless had an obligation under the VCDR to respond in a way which would protect the US Embassy and its diplomats.

The application of that rule is demonstrated by the facts presented in the case, the court's analysis, and the respective parties' arguments. The decision devotes a great deal of time to the various legal obligations a nation undertakes when it becomnes a party to the VCDR--including the requirement to take all reasonable steps to protect the diplomatic premises and occupants, rather than doing nothing to seek the release of the captured diplomats for 444 days.

Case opinions usually conclude with a result--in this case, that Iran incurred liability for breaching its obligations under the VCDR. The Court thus ordered Iran to release the hostages.

...................................... Other Case Reading Resources
Should you desire further insight, the following webpages--alphabetically organized by subject--provide more detailed insight about how to read a case:

Online resources:
Briefing results in better learning
.....Prof. Andrew Beckerman-Rodau (Ohio Northern University)
How to Brief a Case: Intro; Components; Sample Briefs
.....CALI (Chicago)
Print resources:
Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students (Carolina Academic Press, 2005)
.....(workbook with exercises for also available).
Orin S. Kerr, How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students, 11 Green Bag 2d
.....51 (2007), available in the Westlaw online database TP-ALL--enter the following:
.....ti("how to read a legal opinion"
David Romantz & Kathleen Vinson, Legal Analysis: The Fundamental Skill
.....Carolina Academic Press (2d ed. Durham, NC: 2006) Contact info: <orders@cap-press.com>
Ruth McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an
.....Expert, Carolina Academic Press (Durham, NC: 2005)
James Moliterno & Fredrick Lederer, An Introduction to Law, Law Study, and the Layer's Role
.....Carolina Academic Press (Durham, NC: 2005)

..Last rev: 07/30/09
..Course Web Page