FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
Although it might not seem this way, knowing how to structure a law essay even before starting the writing process is the key to getting a 1st in your assignment. A clear essay outline helps to focus the reading of textbooks and journal articles, saving you a lot of time. It also saves you from waffling and makes you stick to the point, so you don’t have to rewrite the essay several times. If you’re interested to learn how to plan a law essay quickly and effectively, keep on reading.
Plan the introduction
Some guides advise law students to write the introduction to their essays after they complete the rest of the assignment. But that doesn’t mean that you can leave the planning of the introduction to the last minute. In fact, you should start your essay plan by outlining exactly what you will put in the introduction.
Essay introductions can vary a lot depending on whether you are dealing with a problem question, a general essay question, a specific essay question or a quotation essay question. In general, however, the structure of your introduction should always be similar to the structure below.
In this section you will include a few sentences with the basic information about the topic of your essay. The aim of the background part of your introduction is to help the reader understand the context of the assignment question you will be dealing with - if you are working on an essay question. In case of a problem question, your background should simply restate the key facts from the scenario that are linked to the legal issues you will be discussing.
The central argument of your essay should be the core of your essay plan. It is the main opinion about a particular area of law which you will be presenting in your paper. Central arguments are typically included only in essay questions. When dealing with a problem question you will want to instead outline the legal issues you will be discussing in your essay.
The final task when planning the introduction is to include an outline of the structure of your law paper. The outline should include key arguments which you will be making in the main body of the essay. If your paper is long enough to contain headings within the main body, then you can simply list them here to help the reader understand the order in which they will be discussed.
Note: for detailed videos on how to write different types of introductions along with examples check out the 1st Class Law Essay Writing Course.
Plan the main body
Make a list of key arguments
The central argument is the key argument made in your essay. But in order to convince your reader to agree with your central argument your essay should be full of supporting arguments. Typically, an essay of 2,500 words will have around 3-4 supporting arguments, each of which will contain a detailed discussion of the relevant cases and/or statute sections. You will be able to identify the supporting arguments by reading the lecture slides, the textbook and the relevant journal articles on the topic.
If you are dealing with a problem question, then the task of planning out the main body of your essay will be simpler. Instead of looking for the supporting arguments all you have to do is identify the legal issues to be discussed in your essay. Alternatively, if there are several persons which you will have to advise in the scenario, you can just identify the names of those persons and structure the main body around the advice for each of them.
Decide on the order of discussion
Now that you have identified the supporting arguments, your task is to try to arrange them in a way which supports your central argument best. Remember that you are trying to convince your reader to agree with your central argument by the end of reading your essay. Try to think about which of the supporting arguments would you discuss first, second, third etc. to do that in the best possible way. If you are dealing with a problem question, then simply arrange your legal issues in the order in which they show up in the scenario.
Come up with headings
The next task is fairly straightforward. All you have to do is to come up with the heading for each of your supporting arguments. Headings in your main body should be short and they should contain a clear explanation of what the following paragraphs under the heading are about. The best headings are usually between 3 to 6 words and they simply summarise what the particular supporting argument is all about.
In case of a problem question essay, each heading should either summarise the legal issue discussed in it or it should include the name of the person who will be given advice in it. Sometimes these two can be joined together, for example: “Martha’s misrepresentation”.
List the content of each heading
Finally, after you come up with the headings you need to reflect on how many paragraphs each heading will contain and what each of those paragraphs will consist of. If you are struggling at this stage to know the exact details of each paragraph, you can simply list the cases and/or statute sections which will be discussed in each paragraph. This will help you to stick to the point once you start writing your essay.
Note: if structuring essays is not your strong side, the 1st Class Law Essay Writing Course will provide you with all the tools and guidance you need to create first class law essay plans.
Plan the conclusion
Restate the central argument
You should avoid introducing any new supporting arguments in the conclusion of your essay. The task of a conclusion is to merely restate what the essay was about, so that anyone trying to decide whether your essay is relevant to their research can quickly decide this after reading the conclusion.
Of course, in real life it is very unlikely that anyone other than your lecturer will actually read through your essay. But your LLB assignments are meant to prepare you for writing more complex papers, such as LLM and PhD theses or journal articles. For that reason, the same rules apply to writing them. In line with this, the first two sentences of your conclusion should be devoted to restating your central argument in a similar way in which you first mentioned it in the introduction.
Restate key supporting arguments
The final stage of creating the plan of your law essay is to pick 2 to 3 key supporting arguments which you discussed in the main body of your paper and outline them again. This time, however, you will not be getting into a detailed discussion of how case law or statute sections justify your supporting arguments. You will simply state what those arguments are in about 2 to 3 brief sentences.