eCite Digital Repository

Writing in Law: A Case Study of Undergraduate Case Briefs


Oxley, EL, Writing in Law: A Case Study of Undergraduate Case Briefs (1997) [Masters Coursework]


This study is an attempt to expose the linguistic conventions of the Case Brief exercise, a writing task commonly required of beginning tertiary students in law. The Case Brief is a highly conventionalised summary of the reasoning of the presiding judges. Studies of academic and professional genres are becoming more numerous, but so far there are few which have analysed legal genres as represented in the interdiscourse of student writers.

The investigation aims to characterise the case summary genre and to highlight some features which present these writers with particular linguistic difficulties. The analysis is based on the Systemic Functional grammar of Halliday (1985/1994), which is concerned with the grammatical choices favoured by speakers/writers in a given context. It is also informed by Swales (1990), Martin (1992) and Bhatia (1993).

A total of 27 assessed Case Brief assignments are analysed; 12 written by native speakers (NSs) and 15 by non-native speakers (NNSs). The NNSs were less successful at this task than the NSs. The analysis procedure is ex.lfository and descriptive with some quantification of the data. Major difficulties found at the global level were a misorderi'ng of stages, a failure to present each judge's reasoning separately and the omission of reference to previous cases. The specialised lexis, incongruent realisations and strings of circumstantial elements characteristic of this genre presented problems for these novice writers. They also had difficulty with the verbal moves inherent in reports of the judges' reasoning and with referential relationships.

The study concludes that the rationale for the task and its link with linguistic forms must be made explicit to students. Only then can the 'invisible' conventions specific to legal discourse become visible, and thus amenable to teaching and learning. Collaboration between discipline and language specialists can make this possible.

Item Details

Item Type:Masters Coursework
Keywords:English for Academic Purposes
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Linguistics
Research Field:Applied linguistics and educational linguistics
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture
UTAS Author:Oxley, EL (Mrs Louise Oxley)
ID Code:108349
Year Published:1997
Deposited By:Academic Division
Deposited On:2016-04-18
Last Modified:2016-04-18

Repository Staff Only: item control page