What is a legal precedent? Definition and case law resources

Legal precedents are essential in decision-making. They aid the judicial officers in referring to similar case laws, saving time and allowing them to scrutinize results. A research paralegal or associate is usually responsible for a case study and discovery regarding a legal matter. Paralegals and associates conduct extensive research to build a case. They search through legal databases and law books. Although large databases can seem tedious, it is possible to simplify the task using the correct case law research tools.

Example of a legal precedent

Kudlacik and Johnnys Shawnee Inc noted that once a legal principle is established by a court (as per The doctrine of stare decisis), it will usually be upheld in subsequent instances in all lower ranks.

What happened? The Supreme Court upheld the decision of a district court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit against the defendants (two alcohol-related establishments) for injuries sustained during a collision between a vehicle and a vehicle whose driver had drunk at one of the defendants’ establishments before the crash.

The plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court, asking them to review the case law that shielded commercial drinking establishments from liability for intoxicated customers’ wrongdoings. After restating the common Law according to the stare decisis principle and ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s decision.

The court declined to overturn Ling. v. Jan’s Liquors (Kan., 1985), 703 P.2d 731 (Kan., 1995). Plaintiff failed to assert a negligence claim;

Plaintiff did not state a claim of aiding and abetting in violation of Restatement (Second), Torts

How to use case law in a report

Legal reports can be prepared in one or both ways: in a simple, non-explanatory tone or a persuasive style.

Include the essential elements of a short

Although template writing styles may differ, a report should include the following:

  • This brief description will help you understand the problem and provide a solution.
  • A statement of facts;
  • An analytical comparison of the facts and the issue regarding the laws.
  • Conclusion of the issue, its facts, and its legal analysis.

Align legal and facts.

A case’s legal precedents are those in which the facts and legal requirements match the current legal dispute. Unless a party can show that the case was not correctly resolved or differed materially from the original, the precedent will usually govern the outcome of any subsequent similar case.

Judges need to identify the “ratio determined” or the reasons for previous decisions to follow the precedents in a report. If the reasoning leads to the same or similar conclusion, the reasons are what “link” the subsequent cases.

Additional citations and considerations

Students, lawyers, and paralegals must be able to navigate and analyze law reports quickly. A legal report does not include the judgment. The report begins with the names of all parties and the hearing date. It also includes the name of the judge or judges. Usually, the court is included in the headnote. A summary of the facts and the judge’s decision is included in the headnote. It is followed by indexing terms and catchwords. As you work on the report, it is crucial to determine which precedents were used in concluding and on whom the decision was based.

These are some of the things to keep in mind when citing case law or constructing a reliable document:

  • Use simple legal language.
  • Use short sentences
  • Use fewer jargons
  • Use the IRAC Method (Issues, Reasonings, Analysis, Conclusion).
  • To improve readability, create sub-topics
  • Keep the flow of your report intact

Final thoughts about precedents

Determining what “the law” is in any given situation can be challenging. You may need to look at many cases to determine which Law applies in your particular case.

Are you familiar with the rules and laws that apply to your case? Are there any cases that are similar to yours or have the same legal issues? Finding a case that is right on the mark or close enough can take a lot of research and time. Request a free trial for Westlaw Precision and dramatically streamline your case research. Try Practical Law to access thousands of expert-written how-to guides, form templates, checklists, etc., in all major practice areas.

The content appearing on this website is not intended as, and shall not be relied upon as, legal advice. It is general and may not reflect all recent legal developments. Thomson Reuters is not a law firm, and an attorney-client relationship is not formed through your use of this website. You should consult with qualified legal counsel before acting on any content found on this website.

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