Tips On Outlining Essay Answers – IRAC, Issue-Spotting & Relevance
Whenever the subject of answering legal essays arises, the IRAC technique inevitably rears its ugly head. Why ugly? Because the IRAC method, in its most basic form, is not the optimal way to answer law exam questions. The IRAC method tends toward students devising simplistic and formulaic answers.
Nonetheless, for any law student who does not outline his or her answers, IRAC is a good starting point for learning the tools to answer law school exam questions. In fact, practicing and developing it can help students improve their treatment of the analysis section resulting in more sophisticated exam answers.
The IRAC method may be used by simply filling in the blanks of the following formula for each issue in an exam question: “The issue is ___________. The rule is ___________. A court would analyze it as follows: [law applied to the facts]. In conclusion, ___________ will likely prevail.”
Essential to answering any law exam question is identifying the relevant, salient issues presented by the question. Some law students based on their undergraduate background may have no or minimal legal issue-spotting skills. Thus, it is imperative that law students develop and sharpen their issue-spotting skills from day one of law school.
Law exam questions are not always clear as to the issues addressed. On one hand, the issues may be obvious and require resolving only those issues that the question itself has emphasized. On the other hand, the question may not specifically address an issue but just direct the examinee to “discuss the issues.”
The failure to spot an issue will prevent the application of the relevant law to the fact pattern and any ensuing analysis. Practice makes perfect. Go through exam questions and write out the issues for each question. Then answer each question and compare all issues and model answers. This is a good way to become familiar with some of the commonly tested issues on law exams.
For each issue identified, state the relevant rule of law that applies to the issue. Only state the relevant rule(s) of law and resist the temptation to provide others that are inapplicable. This will not impress a law professor or gain points, and only wastes valuable time.
Next, we will look at the most important aspect of answering a law exam question, the analysis.
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