FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
One of the frequently asked questions by students is about how to answer problem-style law questions in the most coherent manner. The method that is often recommended by lecturers is the IRAC method, which consists of four elements: Issue, Rule, Analysis and Conclusion. The IRAC method allows you to answer problem style questions in law, i.e. the questions that involve a real-world scenario and ask you to provide your advice to any parties involved. Although it is not the only method that you can use to answer problem questions in law, it’s advantage is that it enables you to break down the scenario questions into four comprehensive sections. If you want to learn how to use the IRAC method then keep on reading.
How to find the issue in your scenario
When you have to answer a problem style, scenario-based question, the first thing that you need to identify is the core issue. Generally, problem style questions don't ask you about the requirements directly and rely on your legal knowledge and acumen to pinpoint the key issue. It is essential to identify and name the issue first, because without identifying the issue you will not know what legal rules apply to the scenario or how to advice the persons mentioned in the scenario.
If you are unclear about the issue, then think about the legal question that you need to answer that will ultimately determine the advice you will give to the persons mentioned in the scenario. For instance, "Will the defendant win the case?" isn't an acceptable issue. It is way too general and refers to the overall outcome of the potential case that the persons mentioned in the scenario might have. It is not specific enough and it doesn’t help you to find out what legal rule to apply to the scenario. On the other hand, "Was the contract binding if there was no consideration?" is an acceptable issue. There are specific cases and/or statute sections which you can find that explain how when a contract is binding, what is consideration and whether a contract is binding when there was no consideration.
Finally, keep in mind that there could be more than one legal issue in the problem question you are dealing with. In fact, usually there are around 3 to 5 legal issues in a standard problem scenario. It is necessary for you to identify every single legal issue and provide a separate rule and analysis for each of them to reach the final advice that you will give to the persons mentioned in the scenario.
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What is the rule applicable to your question
The rule defines which specific law is applicable to the legal issue(s) you have identified in your problem question. Identifying the legal rule which applies to your scenario involves some digging through your study materials to find the right cases and/or statute sections which will help you answer the legal question(s) which you asked in the first step (i.e. the legal issues). You should state the rule as a general principle and not as a conclusion to the scenario you are attempting to solve.
For example, one legal rule coming from the case of Thomas v Thomas states that in contract law “consideration” is something which must be of value in the eyes of the law. This would be one of the legal rules which you would have to use in order to answer the example legal issue mentioned earlier in this article: "Was the contract binding if there was no consideration?". But it would by no means be the only legal rule applicable to that issue. You would no doubt also have to explain other rules related to contract law derived from a variety of other cases. For example, you would start by explaining that a binding contract consists of offer, acceptance and consideration. You would then discuss several different rules on whether a contract is binding when there is no consideration.
Identifying the relevant legal rules and mentioning them at this stage of solving your problem scenario is important because it gives you the clarity to analyse the scenario and apply the correct rules to find the right conclusion. It also demonstrates to the examiner that you can make a distinction between the legal issue and the legal rule applicable to the scenario, which is a very important skill for any law student or professional.
How to do the analysis of the rule
When using the IRAC method, the analysis will be the longest as well as the most important section of your answer. Here you will apply the rule to the specific facts in the problem scenario. You will need to rely on the facts to describe how the rule you are applying can result in conclusion. It's essential that you talk about both sides of the case.
Make sure that you are not just stating a conclusion without mentioning any causes for it. If you do that, you will not really be applying the IRAC writing method. For example, if you end up with a conclusion that was not backed with any explanation, then this means that you have not really applied the legal rule to the facts in the problem scenario to properly analyse the legal issue(s) identified.
When analysing the legal rules applicable to the scenario, you will likely have to call on the facts of specific cases which you identified. The best way to use those cases is to compare and contrast the facts in those cases with the facts in the problem scenario. Then, you should look at the decision in the case and figure out whether the court would be likely to make the same decision if they were faced with ruling on the facts included in the scenario. The simple rule here is that if the facts of the scenario are similar enough to the facts of the case, then the judges would be likely to follow the decision in the case.
How to write the conclusion of your answer
The final step of using the IRAC method is writing a conclusion that explains the most probable outcome, which you will be able to identify after you have applied the rule to the issue and analysed it. State the outcome of your analysis in a clear and concise manner. For instance, "The contract between plaintiff and defendant is likely to be void" is a good example of a very well-formulated conclusion. Don't forget that the outcome cannot be vague, it has to be transparent and clear.
However, you can still use words such as “is likely to” if there are certain parts of the scenario which do not provide sufficient information for you to be sure of the conclusion. You can also mention that although something “is likely to” happen, whether or not it will happen depends on X, Y and Z. Just make sure that you discuss those X, Y and Z factors when analysing the legal rules and applying them to the legal issues.
Answering scenario-based law questions can be a bit tricky because those types of questions are hardly ever straightforward. But using the IRAC writing method can help you to structure your answer and guide you through the way in which you should deal with the problem scenario. The best way of using IRAC involves going through the steps mentioned above. Although the IRAC method isn't the only way to solve a problem-based questions in law, it is used widely because it can be helpful for law students in terms of identifying the issue, applying the rule, conducting the analysis of the scenario and reaching the final conclusion. It breaks down the problem into four logical steps, making it easier for the students to follow the reasoning step by step.