How To Use IRAC on Law School Exams
Final exams in law school can be scary, especially if you get professors who like to give long-winded essay questions. A fact pattern that is paragraphs and paragraphs long is very intimidating! Having the right approach is essential to your success – and the most efficient approach is to use IRAC on law school exams. You’ve probably been taught IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) in your classes, and now is your chance to put it into practice! In this post, we tell you how to use IRAC on law school exams.
How To Use IRAC on Law School Exams
One of the most important skills to develop for success on law school exams is issue spotting. If your final contains an essay question (or maybe multiple), you will likely receive one long fact pattern and then an open ended question such as “Discuss the relevant claims that could be made” or “Discuss the arguments each party could raise.” The facts will likely trigger the need to analyze many different issues. So in order to effectively IRAC on law school exams, you will need to practice spotting all of the issues! (After all, if you cannot identify the issues, you will not be able to state the applicable rules or analyze them.) So issue-spotting is a key skill.
Remember that each fact is likely there for a reason. Somehow, some way, it contributes to a discussion. Thus, to make sure that you have spotted all of the issues in a pattern, you should go back through and confirm that each fact or series of facts is somehow used in your answer. If not, think about what potential issues that fact could be relevant to. It might indicate that you’ve missed something, or that you didn’t discuss one issue as thoroughly as you could.
Another tip if you find yourself “stuck” is to step away from the fact pattern for a minute and think about rules in your outline. For example, in a Criminal Law exam, homicide will most likely be tested and so will topics your professor spent a lot of time on in class (e.g., many law school professors spend a long time discussing felony murder).
The best way to get good at issue-spotting is to practice!
When you’ve identified an issue, state it clearly. Then move on to the next step.
After you’ve clearly defined an issue that is relevant to the fact pattern, the next step when you IRAC on law school exams is to state the rule. Limit your rule statements to only those prompted by the facts. You don’t need to go off on tangents and dump a bunch of rules that you won’t be able to analyze on the facts given. You don’t need to explain the history behind the rule. Just articulate the law that you will next be applying to the facts.
If you have a good outline, this will help you identify the rules!
When you use IRAC on law school exams, the most substantial section is going to be your analysis. This is where you can pick up the bulk of your points. Your main goal is to thoroughly apply your rule statements to the facts presented. If you have two parties, you are going to want to spend time developing arguments for each of them. Consider how the facts and law affect what arguments each party can make, what defenses they can raise, etc.
We like to think of the “A” in IRAC as standing for, “argue both sides.”
After you’ve considered both perspectives, you will want to analyze which side is stronger or more convincing. Whose position does the law support more? Think about whether you have case law that might support favoring one party over another, whether there are policy reasons to favor a party, etc. Think logical, and think like a lawyer! The strength of the arguments you make here is what will determine the overall strength of your response.
The last portion of your IRAC on law school exams should be your conclusion. You want to avoid saying something like “It could go either way, so the judge will decide.” What result do you think is most likely based on the law and your analysis? You don’t have to say it definitively – rather you can use phrases like “probably” or “more likely.” The goal is to show that you understand the facts and the law, and can use this information to reason to the most likely outcome, even if it isn’t guaranteed. Focus your conclusion solely on the issue that you just discussed. This is the best way to wrap up your discussion of this issue before moving on to whatever else you need to discuss.
The overall goal of using IRAC on law school exams is to make your response less cluttered and easier to follow. By separating out the issues and your discussions of them, you make it perfectly clear to your professor that you understand the intricacies of each topic. If you just start writing a jumbled response, your discussion of the finer points of each issue become lost. You might have identified the correct rule, but it could be hard for the professor to determine whether you have applied it properly. Accordingly, thoroughly address all aspects of one issue, conclude on it, and then move on to the next! Now your professor doesn’t have to search through your response to find where you’ve analyzed a topic.
Laura Sigler, who graduated magna cum laude from Wayne State University Law School, is a JD Advising Legal Researcher and Essay Grader.
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