Research Activity for the Legal Brief

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 3 days
1 and _ hours to read lesson and to make copies of court case
Materials: Access to computer lab to do research
Copies of Ricki Jones v. Metro City from the web site of


Students will begin by reading the stipulated facts of the mock trial case of Ricki Jones v. Metro City and the applicable law for the case. After a short class discussion about the case to check for comprehension the students will be divided into four groups. Two groups will research information on the Street Law web site to be able to write an appeals legal brief for the plaintiff and two groups will look for information to support an appeals legal brief for the defendant. These briefs will be written in the Apply Lesson.

Purpose – This is the Explain Lesson.
Students will use extensive information about previous cases with related themes and depositions on the Street Law web site to gather information that will be used to write an effective appeals brief for whichever party in the case their group has been assigned to represent.

Students will be able to:
1. Read a legal brief for understanding
2. Analyze the legal brief as the first step in creating legal arguments to be used for either side in an appeal
3. Do basic legal research to be used in writing a brief
4. Gather information that will be used to create an effective argument for one side of the assigned court case

National English Education Standard
Strand 2: Concept 2: Functional Text
PO 1. Synthesize information from multiple sources to draw conclusions.
Strand 2: Concept 3: Persuasive Text
PO 1. Describe the central argument and its elements in a persuasive text.

Teacher Background
It would be helpful if you understood how and why court cases get appealed. This information can be found in any 12th grade government textbook or at the following web site:

Resource Websites

http://streetlaw.org/mockt2.html (The Street Law web site where the mock trial information for Ricki Jones v. Metro City is found)



1. Before class go to http://streetlaw.org/mockt2.html (the Street Law web site) where the mock trial information for Ricki Jones v. Metro City is found and download pages 1 – 4 up to but not including the case law. Make a copy of this for each student.

2. Begin the class by reviewing with the students what the parts of the legal brief are. The first sections are the facts of the case and the issues of the case.

3. Give the students the copies of the Ricki Jones v. Metro City case which contains the facts of the case and the issues of the case. Have the students carefully read this individually, making note of any information which seems pivotal to the case.

4. In a short class discussion go over the facts of the case which both parties have agreed are accurate. Encourage all students to participate to do a verbal check for knowledge on the basic concepts of this case.

5. Divide the class into four groups (or however many even numbered groups works best for the size of your class). There will be a lot of information to read and analyze about the case. Half of the groups will be doing research to find appropriate facts which will back up an appeals brief for the defense and half will be doing the same for the plaintiff. So you will be telling half the groups that the defendant won and the other half that the plaintiff won.

6. Give the groups time to meet to discuss their side of the case, to read the tort actions, and to devise preliminary arguments that could be made for their appeals brief.

7. Take the students to the computer lab (for approximately two days) and have them go to http://streetlaw.org/mockt2.html . This is the web site for the mock trial of Ricki Jones v. Metro City. Direct the students to the mock trial. In it are thirty some pages of cases with related themes and their outcomes, witness statements, and publications connected to the case. Each group needs to assign different members to read, analyze, and take notes on the documents of the case, searching for anything that can be used in their appeals brief to create a strong argument for their side.

8. Students who finish early with this initial web site should be encouraged to go to other areas of the Street Law site to see what else they can learn about the judicial process and/or surf other legal web sites to find more legal precedents. After they are done with the legal research the students need to visit other web sites that have information on water quality information, or other pertinent things connected to the environmental health aspect of this case that could be used to bolster their group’s argument.

9. At the end of the second day remind the students that they will be writing an appeals brief in the next lesson. Ask them as a class to brainstorm on what features an effective argument or a persuasive document contains. Direct each student to look at what information he or she found to contribute to the group’s legal brief and to consider how it might fit into the bigger picture.

Embedded Assessment
During the first two short class discussions check to see that students are participating and verbally demonstrating an understanding of the previous days’ lessons by knowing the parts of the legal brief and by demonstrating an understanding of the facts and issues of the case through thorough reading. Also observe how actively each student participates in the research and perhaps goes beyond the information on the initial web site. Check each group’s work to see that each student has pertinent information that will be useful in writing an effective legal brief to appeal the group’s side of the case.

None is necessary.

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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