When a court decision is reached, a legal document is published that contains all the details with regards to how the litigation occurred and how the court decision was reached. Before this, a concise summary is placed at the top of the document that contains all the necessary details and key points pertaining to the laws that were in contest. This concise summary is referred to as a headnote.
There are various reasons as to why a headnote is placed at the beginning of a legal document of a court decision. The primary purpose of a headnote is to act as a quick reference for individuals who are reviewing the court decision and the laws in contest.
A headnote is not written by the judge, but by an editor or reporter of the court. The editor, who is usually from a legal publishing house, provides an added value to the legal document of the court decision. This is done in an effort to sell such cases and court decisions to students or law professionals who wish to obtain such kind of information. However, it is possible that the judge may write the headnote. In the aforementioned case, the headnote may also become part of the judicial opinion.
Many individuals use headnotes as they would an abstract. This is makes the responsibilities of a legal researcher easier to fulfill as it provides all the necessary information in a few words. The text of the headnote can be directly taken from the judicial opinion itself or a mere paraphrasing or summarizing of the opinion.