INTRO TO ESSAY WRITING
Getting good grades in law school is easier than you think. Thorough preparation and systematic essay writing will help you maximize the points available on your final exams and the Bar Exam itself.
To write perfect essays, you need to first master the art of legal writing; which is the ability to write only what is necessary in as few words as possible and omitting anything that is not relevant. Getting in the habit of writing this way will leave you the time and space needed to address other relevant issues and thus gain more points. Professors give no points for wordiness, only for identifying the correct issues and laws, then applying them logically, which brings us to the I.R.A.C. method.
If you haven't heard of the IRAC method or something similar, you should acquaint yourself with it here to better understand the terms used in this article. Briefly though, the IRAC method is comprised of four parts: Identifying the Issue, identifying the relevant legal Rules (statutes or court precedent), Applying the rule to the issue, and your Conclusion based on that application. This system is good for organization, but is not the best layout for an essay. For a good essay answer, the answer should look more like this: Introduction; Issuea, Rulea, & Applicationa; Issueb, Ruleb, & Applicationb; Conclusion.
Read: When faced with an essay is to read the instructions and fact pattern very carefully. Often times the professor will instruct you to ignore certain issues or rules for one reason or another, and identifying those issues is a waste of valuable time that will gain you no points. Also, pay attention to every word in the fact pattern or call to question; several times I have missed a detail which changed the entire result of the question and caused a rushed edit while running out of time on the exam.
Keep Your Eyes Open: Don't make the mistake of getting tunnel vision. Any essay question will likely have multiple issues and several pertinent rules for each issue; never stop looking for more issues and rules. Even if you find all the issues and think that you are ready to start writing, always remember that each of those issues will always involve two adverse parties, so you always need to argue both ways. Remember that when writing an essay, you are the prosecution, defense, and judge, and points are available for each viewpoint.
Outline: To keep all of these things organized, take the time to outline all of these issues and rules on scratch paper. By the time you have read the facts, thought about them, and then outlined the issues, you will have a pretty good idea of how each side will argue their case and what the court's ruling would be. Now, and never prior to this point, it is time to start writing.
Introduce the case: Start your essay with a brief introduction which names all of the issues, rules, and the likely court holdings. These brief notes could gain some points even if you run out of time and don't get to them within the meat of the answer. Additionally, this introduction will help organize the answer in your mind which will help you write much more efficiently and cleanly; also, it is the last chance to spot errors without having to make major edits within your answer. This introduction will also help your professor make sense of the jumbled mess that is sure to come.
Name your Issues: After the introduction, start with the strongest issue and finish with the weakest, each getting at least one paragraph of it's own. For each paragraph/issue, state the facts that created this issue. For example:
"John Doe is charged with battery and assault because he told P that he was going to fight him, then struck P in the mouth with his fist. On the other hand, D claims that he did not intend to hit P, and was just fooling around."
Name your Rules: For each Issue/paragraph, state the rules that you will be applying, whether they be statutes, common law, or court holdings.
"According to State lawX, a battery occurs when a person intentionally causes offensive contact with another, and an Assault occurs when a person intentionally creates the apprehension of battery in another. According to X v. X, intent can be established if a threat of contact immediately precedes the unwanted contact, and that prior threat can also establish an apprehension of battery when combined with a threatening act."
Apply the Rules to the Facts: I like to skip the formal naming of issues and rules, and blend them together with the application and conclusion. I find that it saves time and makes for better reading:
"The Defendant(D) will likely be convicted of battery, and certainly be convicted of assault. He is likely guilty of Battery because he told the Plaintiff(P) that he was going to fight, then hit P's mouth with his fist. According to State law X, battery requires that D intentionally cause an unwanted contact with P, which occurred when D caused his fist to hit P. D cannot claim this act of swinging was involuntary because he admitted to the act when he stated that "he did it while playing around". D will claim that this was not an intentional act since he was just playing around, and thus the act was not battery; But, according to X v. X, the threat of battery combined with the unwanted contact enough to prove intent in this state, so D's threat and subsequent contact with P establish his intent to make contact. Thus, D is likely guilty of battery since every element (intent, cause, & unwanted contact) has been met."
"D is certainly guilty of assault, because State lawX only requires that he intentionally cause the apprehension of battery in P. Here, D stated that he was going to fight, then took a swing and actually hit D. According to X v. X, creating the apprehension of battery only requires that a person state that they are going to batter another and immediately make a motion as if to fulfill this statement. D meets both elements by stating his intention to fight then raising his fist to take a swing."
I wrote this answer, (which is based on fictitious laws by the way), in the same fashion that I would write an exam answer. You will notice that every sentence is applicable to either pertinent fact, rule, or issue; this is how you need to write; make sure you get at least one point per sentence, otherwise the sentence is a waste of time. You will also notice that I was able to write two whole paragraphs based on just a few sentences of facts and rules; this is done by approaching each element of each rule on it's own, describing and presenting each to the professor with the relevant facts, so that he can see why the element was or was not met. This is something you must do if you want to get every point possible on the test.
The answer I wrote here was far from perfect, but it is organized and hits all the key points, things which will earn points. If I had spent a little more time I could have made it a bit more readable, but you will find that the time restraints on exams make that very tough to do... your fear of running out of time overrides the need to go back. But, fortunately, everyone taking the exam will be in the same position, and the professors will be appreciative of the fact that your answers were at least organized and legible.
As you can see, mixing the issue, rule and application sections is much more efficient and organic than trying to strictly follow the I.R.A.C. bullet point method, but be cautioned that some professors may want you to follow the I.R.A.C or their own method, so be sure to ask.
For every issue in the fact patter, writing a paragraph like the one above, hitting all key points. Continue writing until you run out of issues or time, then write a brief conclusion which sums up all of your paragraphs/issues and which tells your professor how you think the court will rule on the issues individually or as a whole, whichever the case may be.
Throughout the essay, remember to write concisely so as to save time, remember to organize your answers, and argue both sides of each issue, there will be points to earn on both sides. Having practiced this system or something similar, you will produce well written and accurate answers and will be able to remain calm due to your preparation while some of your peers are freaking out and writing gibberish.
There are countless ways to stylistically complete an academic essay. Here are some examples of how students have successfully done so, while maintaining proper academic structure.
A proper introduction should:
- Introduce main arguments
- Have an attention grabbing first sentence
- Provide concise information about broader significance of topic
- Lead in to the body of the essay
Here are three examples of introduction paragraphs. They have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers. For a close reading of the examples, click the images below.
Example 1Example 2Example 3
The body of your essay should:
- Address one idea per paragraph
- Support arguments with scholarly references or evidence
- Contextualise any case studies or examples
- Use correct punctuation and proofread your work
- Keep writing impersonal (do not use 'I', 'we', 'me')
- Be concise and simple
- Be confident ("The evidence suggests..." rather than "this could be because...")
- Connect paragraphs so they flow and are logical
- Introduce primary and secondary sources appropriately
- Avoid using too many quotations or using quotes that are too long
- Do not use contractions (you’re, they’d)
- Do not use emotive language ("the horrific and extremely sad scene is evidence of...")
This example illustrates how to keep an essay succinct and focused, by taking the time to define the topic:
Defining a topic
Lastly, this paragraph illustrates how to engage with opposing arguments and refute them:
ConclusionA proper conclusion should:
- Sum up arguments
- Provide relevance to overall topic and unit themes
- Not introduce new ideas
Example 1 Example 2