What Does a Legal Precedent Mean? Understanding and Utilizing Case Law Resources

In the realm of law, a legal precedent holds great significance. It refers to a previously established legal decision that serves as a guiding principle for similar cases. Legal precedents are categorized into two types: binding and persuasive.

The Distinction Between Binding and Persuasive Precedents

A binding precedent is one that a court must follow when adjudicating a case. It is a mandatory authority that shapes the outcome of a legal matter. On the other hand, a persuasive precedent is not obligatory but can be considered by a court when making a decision.

Definition from the Practical Law Glossary

Legal precedents play a crucial role in the decision-making process, providing judicial officers with a valuable reference to similar case laws. By relying on established precedents, time is saved, and scrutiny is enhanced. Typically, the responsibility of researching and discovering relevant case laws falls upon research paralegals or associates. They meticulously sift through physical and digital resources, such as law books, legal databases, and case law statutes. While this research can be laborious, practical case law research tools simplify the process.

A Concrete Example of Legal Precedent

To illustrate the importance of legal precedents, let’s look at the case of Kudlacik v Johnnys Shawnee Inc. In this case, it was observed that once a legal principle is established by a court, it is generally upheld by the same court for similar legal issues in subsequent instances, as per the doctrine of stare decisis. This principle also extends to lower-ranking courts.

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Here’s a summary of what transpired: The Supreme Court upheld the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit against two commercial drinking establishments. The plaintiff claimed injuries resulting from a collision with a vehicle driven by an individual who had consumed alcoholic beverages at the defendants’ establishments.

The plaintiff appealed, urging the Supreme Court to reconsider the district court’s case law shielding commercial drinking facilities from liability for the actions of their intoxicated customers. However, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s ruling, reaffirming the common law in adherence to the stare decisis principle. The ruling stated that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for negligence and aiding and abetting under Restatement (Second) of Torts.

In this way, legal precedents ensure consistency in the interpretation and enforcement of the law.

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Incorporating Case Law Precedents in a Report

When utilizing case law as a precedent in a legal report, it is vital to structure the document effectively. Legal reports can be written in either a straightforward, neutral-explanatory tone or a more persuasive manner, depending on the objective.

Key Elements of a Legal Report

Regardless of writing style, a report should include the following elements:

  • A concise description of the issue, with an intention to explore it further and provide a simple resolution.
  • A statement of the facts at hand.
  • An analytical comparison of the facts and issue in relation to the relevant laws.
  • A conclusion that summarizes the issue, its facts, and the legal analysis.
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Aligning Facts and Legal Issues

To effectively utilize legal precedents, it is crucial for judges to identify the “ratio decidendi” or the grounds for decisions made in previous cases. If subsequent cases share similar reasoning, they will likely arrive at the same or similar conclusions. It is this reasoning that establishes a connection between cases.

Additional Considerations and Citations

When citing case law and constructing a reliable report, legal professionals should consider the following points:

  • Use simple and standard legal language to ensure clarity.
  • Employ shorter sentences for better comprehension.
  • Minimize the use of technical jargon.
  • Follow the IRAC Method (Issue, Reasoning, Analysis, and Conclusion).
  • Organize the report using sub-topics to enhance readability.
  • Maintain a seamless flow throughout the document.

Closing Thoughts on Legal Precedents

Determining the appropriate legal course of action can be a challenge. To ascertain the applicable law in a specific case, a comprehensive comparison of various instances is often necessary. Finding a relevant case that closely aligns with one’s own can be time-consuming and require exhaustive research. Fortunately, tools such as Westlaw Precision and Practical Law offer valuable resources to streamline case law research and gain access to expert-written guides, forms, templates, and checklists covering a wide range of practice areas.

Please note that the content on this website should not be considered legal advice. It is intended for general information purposes and may not account for recent legal developments. Consultation with qualified legal counsel is essential before taking action based on the content found on this website.

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