Law school is… different, and so is the approach to answering problem based questions. The IRAC method will help you structure your exams and essays, so forget everything you currently know about answering questions and take a read!
What does IRAC mean?
- Issue: identify the issue.
- Rule: state the rule/law.
- Analysis: discuss the law in respect to the facts.
- Conclusion: provide your conclusion.
Don’t be deceived – it’s harder than it looks
It looks pretty simple, right? Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind IRAC is as simple as things can get – the difficulty is in the execution.
An easy way to explain IRAC is to talk about the things that are most likely to trip you up when using it.
Don’t write an introduction
We are taught during high school and most university courses to rehash the facts or situation as part of an introduction for any answer we give.
At law school, a problem based question simply doesn’t need one. Instead, just write down the issue as a question or a statement. For example: “the issue in this situation is whether plaintiff’s title to the property is indefeasible.” That’s it – now move on to the rule section.
I remember writing a short introduction in a problem based assignment (which I thought was different to an exam, for some unknown reason) even when the lecturer told us not to! In my defence it was early on in my first year (fine – second half of my first year).
A problem that many law students face is failing to adapt to the academic environment of law school. It takes time to reverse old habits and realise that an introduction is no longer necessary.
Don’t pad your answer
Answers in law school should be concise and relevant – the IRAC method will assist, but you still need to consider everything you write down and query whether its relevant. Fluff and padding will not help your marks and will not make up for the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Save the extra words for those 7,500 and 10,000 word essays!
Being concise is particularly important in exams when you have time limits to separate students into into credit, distinction and high distinction categories. Expressed bluntly, you can’t bullshit your way through a legal question.
This is enforced by lecturers by imposing low word limits. A 3,000 word assignment might sound like a lot before you start but most people will find themselves at the end scrambling to delete words.
Word limits are also used to identify students who understand the most important concepts and reward them for it. You will always get the most marks if you:
- can identify the key issues (relevance); and
- are able to thoroughly consider the issues for each (being concise).
This might mean you need remove any discussion of minor ancillary issues, even if what you wrote is correct.
For example, a 30 mark essay capped at 1500 words might in fact have 40 marks available, depending on what your response is. This generally gives the lecturers some scope when marking papers. However, you would need to write far more than 1500 words to discuss all the issues to get all those marks, which is obviously not allowed.
Write on point and with precision and you will increase your chances to score full marks.
Don’t revisit your answer in your conclusion
Don’t rewrite your answer in your conclusion section. Your conclusion is essentially a “yes” or “no” response to the issue (eg “the plaintiff’s title to the property is not indefeasible”). Similar to the issue section, limit it to one sentence and spend your effort on the far more important analysis section – this is where all the marks lie.
Be flexible with the rule and analysis sections, and structure your answer to help the reader
The ideal question to answer is one where the various issues you need to discus and explain are entirely separate from one another and your structure is literally: issue; rule; analysis; and conclusion (perhaps repeated three or four times). You might get a few of these in an exam, but unfortunately, they are not in abundance!
Most questions, will have overlapping issues and this is where structure becomes very important. For written essays and assignments you will have time to plan this out properly. In exams, it will come down to practice, so make sure you run through as many practice exams as you can to find out the best structure for any particular question (exam topics are frequently repeated so you can figure out what will be on your exam early).
The IRAC method is not for all types of questions
You might have already picked it up, but the IRAC method works best with problem based questions. If you’ve got a “discuss the the advantages and disadvantages of indefeasibility in property law” kind of question, then first of all I feel genuinely sorry for you, and secondly, you will need to find another way to answer this question.
IRAC answer examples
It’s easier to explain this method if by looking at an example IRAC answer. The below examples are very brief and don’t go into much caselaw detail, but they should suffice for a general example.
I have chosen the first one from criminal law because this is usually taught early on in most degrees. The second is in a different post on exam scripts, and is from a key area in contract law.
The words in [square brackets] or in italics are to indicate [structure] or are just general commentary and would not be included in your answer.
Criminal law IRAC example – Murder/manslaughter
[Exam heading] Murder
[Exam heading] Issue
- Did D commit murder?
- Can prosecution charge D with murder?
[Exam heading] Law and Analysis
- [Exam heading] (a) Mens Rea
- (State the law)
- (This is the analysis) In this situation, [there is insufficient evidence of intention]
- [Exam heading] (b) Actus reus
- (State the law)
- (This is the analysis) Here, it is clear that D’s actions were voluntary, and that the act caused the death of V.
- (Still the analysis) It could be argued that [act] was actually [something else], and therefore should not be considered voluntary. This was argued in [key case], however here, [the other important factor in key case] was not present, which means that any argument from D that actus reus is not made out is unlikely.
- (I can’t remember much of crim, but usually an exam question will have a factual scenario that plays on the facts of a key case. For example, in this question there might be something in the facts which requires you to discuss how the “voluntary” act is similar or different to a voluntary act in the key case. Refer to it and make a conclusion. If the chief examiner is particularly cruel, they will blend a factual scenario from two key cases, and you will need to refer to both and make a call on what is more applicable.)
[Exam heading] Conclusion
- D unlikely to be charged with murder. While there is sufficient evidence for actus reus, there is no mens rea.
(You will now want to determine whether D can be charged with a lesser office based on a different mens rea. To make the best use of time, refer back to what you have already written in the murder section.
Just as a warning – only refer back to things in the same answer. Sometimes, different questions in an exam booklet will be marked by different people. They might not have time to skip back to a different question to find something you have written.)
[Exam heading] MANSLAUGHTER
[Exam heading] Issue
- Can D be charged with manslaughter?
[Exam heading] Law and Analysis
- [Exam heading] (a) Mens rea
- The mens rea for manslaughter is… (as I said above, it’s been a looooong time since I studied criminal law. I have no idea what elements should go here. Recklessness?? Also, surely law students learn that this is the “fault element” now?)
- In this situation… (apply facts)
- [Exam heading] (b) Actus reus
- The elements for manslaughter are the same as for murder. These have been discussed above and are present in this situation.
[Exam heading] Conclusion
- D is likely to be charged with manslaughter as fault and external elements are all present.
(Part of your job is to make life easy for the marker. That’s the great thing about IRAC – it provides an ideal structure to frame your answer around. However, when you don’t need to write much then the structure can feel very forced. If you think your answer is going to look a bit stupid, just put everything in the one paragraph, but make sure you stick to the IRAC structure. See the below paragraph for an example.)
[Alternative manslaughter IRAC section]
(Issue) As murder is unlikely to be found, an alternative charge of manslaughter should be considered. (The following is law and analysis for actus reus) The actus reas for manslaughter is identical to murder, and is therefore present, as discussed above. (Next up, law and analysis for mens rea) However, the mens rea is different. The mens rea for manslaughter is…. [state law, discuss]. (Conclusion) Therefore, it is likely/unlikely that D will be charged with manslaughter.
Contract law IRAC example – termination of contracts
In my post on exam scripts you will find an IRAC example for termination of contracts. It’s from one of my old exam scripts and is a little more detailed than the above example for criminal law.
Want some help with a practice exam question?
If you have a practice exam question that you’re working on and you would like a second set of eyes taking a look, email me a copy of the exam (or upload it using the contact form below) and I’ll see if I can work through it. (I won’t look at any current essay questions you’re working on – speak to your class mates about those.)
Cheers!If you found this helpful, please share it around!
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Constitutional law is a body of law which defines the role, powers, and structure of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the parliament or legislature, and the judiciary; as well as the basic rights of citizens and, in federal countries such as the United States and Canada, the relationship between the central government and state, provincial, or territorial governments.
Not all nation states have codified constitutions, though all such states have a jus commune, or law of the land, that may consist of a variety of imperative and consensual rules. These may include customary law, conventions, statutory law, judge-made law, or international rules and norms. Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority. In some instances, these principles grant specific powers to the government, such as the power to tax and spend for the welfare of the population. Other times, constitutional principles act to place limits on what the government can do, such as prohibiting the arrest of an individual without sufficient cause.
In most nations, such as the United States, India, and Singapore, constitutional law is based on the text of a document ratified at the time the nation came into being. Other constitutions, notably that of the United Kingdom, rely heavily on unwritten rules known as constitutional conventions; their status within constitutional law varies, and the terms of conventions are in some cases strongly contested.
State and legal structure
Constitutional laws may often be considered second order rule making or rules about making rules to exercise power. It governs the relationships between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive with the bodies under its authority. One of the key tasks of constitutions within this context is to indicate hierarchies and relationships of power. For example, in a unitary state, the constitution will vest ultimate authority in one central administration and legislature, and judiciary, though there is often a delegation of power or authority to local or municipal authorities. When a constitution establishes a federal state, it will identify the several levels of government coexisting with exclusive or shared areas of jurisdiction over lawmaking, application and enforcement. Some federal states, most notably the United States, have separate and parallel federal and state judiciaries, with each having its own hierarchy of courts with a supreme court for each state. India, on the other hand, has one judiciary divided into district courts, high courts, and the Supreme Court of India.
Main articles: Human rights and International human rights law
Human rights or civil liberties form a crucial part of a country's constitution and uphold the rights of the individual against the state. Most jurisdictions, like the United States and France, have a codified constitution, with a bill of rights. A recent example is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which was intended to be included in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, that failed to be ratified. Perhaps the most important example is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the UN Charter. These are intended to ensure basic political, social and economic standards that a nation state, or intergovernmental body is obliged to provide to its citizens but many do include its governments.
Some countries like the United Kingdom have no entrenched document setting out fundamental rights; in those jurisdictions the constitution is composed of statute, case law and convention. A case named Entick v. Carrington is a constitutional principle deriving from the common law. John Entick's house was searched and ransacked by Sherriff Carrington. Carrington argued that a warrant from a Government minister, the Earl of Halifax was valid authority, even though there was no statutory provision or court order for it. The court, led by Lord Camden stated that,
"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances, where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole. By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass... If no excuse can be found or produced, the silence of the books is an authority against the defendant, and the plaintiff must have judgment."
The common law and the civil law jurisdictions do not share the same constitutional law underpinnings. Common law nations, such as those in the Commonwealth as well as the United States, derive their legal systems from that of the United Kingdom, and as such place emphasis on judicial precedent, whereby consequential court rulings (especially those by higher courts) are a source of law. Civil law jurisdictions, on the other hand, place less emphasis on judicial review and only the parliament or legislature has the power to effect law. As a result, the structure of the judiciary differs significantly between the two, with common law judiciaries being adversarial and civil law judiciaries being inquisitorial. Common law judicatures consequently separate the judiciary from the prosecution, thereby establishing the courts as completely independent from both the legislature and law enforcement. Human rights law in these countries is as a result, largely built on legal precedent in the courts' interpretation of constitutional law, whereas that of civil law countries is almost exclusively composed of codified law, constitutional or otherwise.
Main article: Parliamentary procedure
Another main function of constitutions may be to describe the procedure by which parliaments may legislate. For instance, special majorities may be required to alter the constitution. In bicameral legislatures, there may be a process laid out for second or third readings of bills before a new law can enter into force. Alternatively, there may further be requirements for maximum terms that a government can keep power before holding an election.
Study of constitutional law
Constitutional law is a major focus of legal studies and research. For example, most law students in the United States are required to take a class in Constitutional Law during their first year, and several law journals are devoted to the discussion of constitutional issues.
The rule of law
The doctrine of the rule of law dictates that government must be conducted according to law. This was first established by British legal theorist A. V. Dicey.
Dicey identified three essential elements of the British Constitution which were indicative of the rule of law:
- Absolute supremacy of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power;
- Equality before the law;
- The Constitution is a result of the ordinary law of the land.
Dicey’s rule of law formula consists of three classic tenets. The first is that the regular law is supreme over arbitrary and discretionary powers. "26o man is punishable ... except for a distinct breach of the law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the land."
The separation of powers
The Separation of Powers is often regarded as a second limb functioning alongside the Rule of Law to curb the powers of the Government. In many modern nation states, power is divided and vested into three branches of government: The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The first and the second are harmonised in traditional Westminster forms of government.
- ^Blick, Andrew; Blackburn, Robert (2012), Mapping the Path to Codifying - or not Codifying - the UK's Constitution, Series paper 2. Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, King’s College London, Parliament UK, retrieved 19 November 2016
- ^H Barnett, Constitutional and Administrative Law (5th edn Cavendish 2005) 9, "A written constitution is one contained within a single document or a [finite] series of documents, with or without amendments"
- ^Markwell, Donald (2016). Constitutional Conventions and the Headship of State: Australian Experience. Connor Court. ISBN 9781925501155.
- ^Entick v. Carrington (1765) 19 Howell's State Trials 1030
- ^"Entick v. Carrington". 19 Howell’s State Trials 1029 (1765). United States: Constitution Society. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
- ^Garner, Bryan A. (2001). A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2nd, revised ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 177.
- ^Black's Law Dictionary - Common law (10th ed.). 2014. p. 334.
- ^Lloyd Duhaime. "Common Law Legal Definition". duhaime.org.
- ^Washington Probate, "Estate Planning & Probate Glossary", Washington (State) Probate, s.v. "common", 8 Dec. 2008:, retrieved 7 November 2009."1. A law based on a prior court decision"
- ^Hale, Sandra Beatriz (July 2004). The Discourse of Court Interpreting: Discourse Practices of the Law, the Witness and the Interpreter. John Benjamins. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-58811-517-1.
- ^Richards, Edward P.; Katharine C. Rathbun (1999-08-15). Medical Care Law. Jones & Bartlett. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8342-1603-7.
- ^Care, Jennifer Corrin (2004-01-12). Civil Procedure and Courts in the South Pacific. Routledge Cavendish. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-85941-719-5.
- ^A. V. Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (Macmillan, 10th ed, 1959) p.202
- ^A. V. Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (10th ed, 1959) p.188
- ^W B Gwyn, The Meaning of the Separation of Powers: An Analysis of the doctrine from Its Origin to the Adoption of the United States Constitution, Tulane University (1965).