FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
Today I wanted to talk to you about something very important. It’s a question that I get asked very often. Iit seems to be a pretty basic question, but the answer to it can get quite complicated. The question I am referring to is “How to answer law essay questions?”. Now, as you can imagine, the answer to this question is quite complex and it’s not something I can cover fully in a short article such as this one. But I will try to give you some basic guidelines to start working with, so that you can start learning about how you should be approaching answering questions in law.
Recognise the type of question asked
The first thing you need to do is just recognise the type of a question asked. Now, if you are in your first year of law school, this will be very hard. If you are in further years, you might already have some idea of how you can recognize the type of a question asked. So the two basic types of law essay questions are: the essay style question and the problem style question. The essay style question is just literally a sentence that you are asked to comment on, a proper question that you are asked to answer or a quotation that you are asked to comment on. In order to answer this type of a question you need to learn how to evaluate the law, that is to discuss its pros, cons and complexities. The problem style question is usually a scenario that describes different circumstances. Sometimes, it refers to something that happened to one person, and sometimes there are several people involved in the scenario to whom different things happened. Obviously these two types of law questions are very, very different and they require very different structures of essays.
For example, with the problem style scenario, you first need to understand how many legal issues there are. In other words, how many of the things mentioned in the scenario actually require a legal response. Let’s say that you are dealing with a criminal law scenario in which somebody was shot while they were wearing a red coat. The fact that they were wearing a red coat has nothing to do with the law. It honestly doesn't matter. But the fact that they were shot by another person as well as how they did it and what they were thinking when they did it - these are all things that will be relevant to the legal issue that you need to discuss to assess whether the shooter will be convicted of murder. On the other hand, with the essay style question the most important thing is for you to understand what type of a question you are dealing with. Is it a general question? Is it a specific question? Or is it a quotation question? Based on that, there are different ways of approaching your essay.
TIP: Want to find out more about how to recognise and answer different types of essay-style questions? Check out my 1st Class Law Essay Writing Course.
Pick the relevant cases & statute sections
The next thing you need to do in order to answer a law essay question is pick the relevant cases and statute sections to be included in your essay. I know - this seems very simple and straightforward, but this is where most students get stuck. The problem is you often come across an essay question and you just think, oh gosh, how do I structure the answer? What are the most important things I should write about this topic? What should I focus on? And the problem that comes with that as well is - well - how many cases and statute sections do I include in? The mistakes that I see often in essays which are not well-written is that students either don't put enough cases and statute sections, that they put the cases and statute sections that are not really relevant or that they put too many of them because they just try to kind of pepper their essay with cases in statute sections in the hope of getting a higher grade. But, actually, what is really needed to write a good answer to a law essay question is including the exact right amount of statute sections and cases for every single part of your essay. And this is something that's very hard to decide on your own. I explain this thoroughly in my First Class Essay Writing Course, so feel free to check it out if you feel like that’s an area you are struggling with. Also, more recently I have created the 1stClassLLB Templates for both essay-style questions and problem-style questions that help you to decide on (amongst other things) how many cases, sections and journal articles you need to put in each section of your essay.
Work with a template
Now, I have kind of hinted at this already. The final step of answering law essay questions is working with a template. Honestly, I can't emphasise enough how important it is that your essay has the right structure. Especially when you're just starting law school, there is literally no way for you to know how to write a first class law essay and what structure it should have. This includes, for example, how many headings you should include in the essay, how you should structure each section of your essay, how to write an introduction, how to write a conclusion, what each section within the main body of your essay should contain. This is knowledge that - I believe - you should be given by the universities at the beginning of your studies, so that you can do very well in your assessments. Unfortunately, law lecturers are quite busy people and they don't really have time to spend on training you how to answer law essay questions.
The 1stClassLLB Templates that I have created, basically contain a formula that applies to all law essays, no matter the module, for both essay-style and problem-style questions. I have spent years on designing and testing those templates, first as a university lecturer and then as a private tutor, which means that they do really contain a winning formula when it comes to answering law essays to a first class standard. The tool that I have come up with is a Word document with several dropdown lists and designated spaces for you to fill in the most relevant information related to the essay. Thanks to all of that you can produce a detailed yet straightforward essay plan to follow when answering your law question, and cut down on your essay writing process significantly. Most importantly, the Templates can prevent you from spending countless hours on trying to figure out a structure that might not even be right for the question that you are trying to answer.
TIP: Check out the 1st Class Law Essay-Style Template and the 1st Class Law Problem-Style Template.
Use the right format and style
The final thing you need to think of when answering law essay questions is that you need to use the right format and style. Now what do I mean by this? There is something called the legal academic writing style, and it is mentioned here and there in a few textbooks that teach students how to write law essays. But nobody really tells you about it specifically. Nobody really sits down and explains in enough detail what are the key aspects of this legal academic writing style and how a first-year student can learn how to use it, i.e. what phrases they should be using in what parts of their essay to make their essay sound a lot more like legal academic writing. At the end of the day, law essays are very, very different from anything you have written in high school or when studying for another degree in the past. Now, it would be impossible for me to explain to you how to use the legal academic writing style in this article. But I have covered it in a lot of detail in my 1st Class Law Essay Writing Course, so feel free to check it out. For now, I will just tell you that in order to properly use the legal academic writing style there are specific phrases that you should use in the introduction, in the conclusion, and in the main body of my essay. You can typically find those phrases in journal articles if you look for them hard enough. But if you don’t want to do the work yourself and just simply need some very easy step-by-step guidance, then feel free to check out my course.
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