So many students use – and misuse the IRAC Method. IRAC, as you may well know, is a method for answering exam questions. It stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. The idea of IRAC is that students go through an exam fact pattern, spot as many issues as they can, state the rules of law, apply the law to the facts, then arrive at conclusions.
The problem is that many students do this in a sloppy manner and lose a lot of points in the process. Here is a quick guide to improving each step of the IRAC formula, and raising your grade in the process.
But first, let’s look at a fact pattern:
Sterling Archer was at a work party, drinking beer. As he was walking through the hallway and carrying his beer, he spilled some on the floor. He decided to go to the cafeteria and get some paper towel to clean up the mess. Upon entering the cafeteria to get paper towel, he saw his coworker, Cyril, kissing his ex-girlfriend (and coworker) Lana. Archer got instantly jealous and punched an unsuspecting Cyril in the face.
In the meantime, the Human Resources director, Pam, heard yelling going on and wanted to see what was going on. As she walked hurriedly to the cafeteria where the ruckus was coming from, she slipped on the beer that had been spilled by Archer and hurt her knee. Discuss tort claims that the parties may have.
Spot the issues by reading the facts carefully.
Issue-spotting in and of itself isn’t going to get you 10,000 points on the exam. If you read the fact pattern and say in response, “The issues are: Whether Archer committed an assault and/or battery against Cyril; and, Whether Archer is liable to Pam for negligence” you probably won’t get a very high score on your exam answer. This is all to say: not all four parts of the IRAC method are treated equally in terms of scoring.
However, you need to spot the issues so that you can state the rules, analyze them….and do all of those other things that get you points. Thus, issue-spotting is a crucial skill to develop if you want to do well on your law school exams.
How do you get better at issue-spotting? If you are having trouble issue-spotting, the best thing to do is to carefully read the fact pattern after you have written your draft answer to see if there are any issues you missed. Ask yourself two simple questions when you go through the fact pattern, “Which fact is in the fact pattern that I have not discussed?” and “Can that fact be turned into an issue?” (If you want to practice issue-spotting, enter your name and e-mail address to get another Torts hypo in the form below. The PDF contains more guidance on issue-spotting).
State the Rules clearly.
If you get a question asking you about battery, you should be able to recite, “A battery is an act with intent to commit a harmful or offensive contact ….or imminent apprehension of such contact…” without much hesitation. Don’t just say, “Archer hit Cyril and this is a battery.” You need to wrap up that statement in legal language – after all, you’re training to be a lawyer!
How do you get better at rule statements? Memorize the rules as best as you can. If you have an open-book exam, make a good “attack outline” of all of the legal rules you are expected to know. If you have a closed-book exam, make sure to memorize the legal rules ahead of time (start now!). We have some several posts on outlining and memorizing your outlines that can help you do this.
Argue both sides.
It is tempting to ramble on and on about how Archer was negligent for spilling his beer and he owes Pam money because she was harmed when she fell, etc. etc. etc.
But it’s not enough to only think about one side. Argue both sides. As a lawyer, you will not only have to make arguments – you will also have to anticipate defenses. Even if you were representing Pam, you have to as, “What will Archer argue?” He might point out that he was going to get paper towel and Pam happened to walk by during the one minute he was in the other room. She might say he could have put some kind of sign or barrier up to warn everyone that beer had been spilled. He might respond by saying it was “open and obvious…” You could go into more depth on each of these arguments, but you get the point. It is not enough to argue one side. Always make arguments on behalf of each party involved.
Actually arrive at a conclusion.
When Pam comes to you to represent her she’s going to want to know if she has a shot at winning. So tell her. The “C” in IRAC doesn’t stand for “The Court could decide either way” (although you might think it did based on how many people write this!) Don’t say that to Pam. She doesn’t want to hear that. If you said that to Pam, she’d roll her eyes and say, “Okay I know but what do you think is going to happen?”
So actually arrive at a conclusion. Don’t be too definite (“Pam will definitely win”) but don’t be too ambiguous either (“It depends on what the court decides”). Saying something like, “Pam will likely succeed.” is sufficient.
If you follow these tips and tricks, you will write a clear and concise IRAC answer – one that will be superior to most of the answers that many law students are accustomed to writing.