Don’t you love foolproof formulas and step-by-step plans to success? The internet is full of all kinds of plans that promise to teach you how to do anything from losing weight, overcoming a fear of bicycle crashes, or making perfect pasta (that apparently takes only 5 steps). We like formulas, maps, and step-by-step directions because they help us to navigate unfamiliar territory.
You even start learning legal writing with a formula; IRAC, CRAC, and CREAC can guide you through the process of legal analysis and writing. Recognizing the benefit of IRAC-like templates, Professor Hollee S. Temple of the West Virginia University College of Law developed a formula to help students with IRAC’s individual elements. I found her formula when some of my students were struggling with how to explain the law and want to share it with you.
The overall formula is that a complete rule section must include the Rule Overview plus the Case Illustrations.
You start with an overview of the legal rule. Think about how confusing it can be to start a novel without reading the book jacket summary or a film without having seen a preview; we like context because it helps set the stage for what is to come. Legal readers are no different. Most students quickly understand that they need to give an overview of the law before they jump into how it applies in a particular controversy and most do pretty well writing a Rule Overview or Rule Statement.
The second part of the Rule formula can get a little trickier, however, but is generally is not enough to give your reader the black letter law. When you are writing an interoffice memorandum, for instance, you are taught to include case illustrations in the “Rule” or “Rule Explanation” section of your analysis. You talk about cases to show your writer how a rule operates and how judges have applied it in the past. Case illustrations sound simple to write but students can struggle with them and Professor Temple created a “mini formula” that may help. For our purposes, let’s call it 3 Steps Plus the Key.
Each solid Case Illustration must have 3 Steps + the Key Proposition.
Begin to draft a case illustration by focusing on three steps:
Step One: Factual Background
Discuss the determinative facts that the court relied on to reach its holding. Use your judgment to decide how much detail is needed; for instance, if you are writing about a case where the court considered the totality of the circumstances or the overall context of a statement, you will need use a fair amount of detail to complete Step One. In contrast, if a court’s decision hinged on a few simple facts, you may be able to include a single sentence.
Step Two: Legal Reasoning
Explain the specific reasons that the court gave to reach its decision.
Step Three: Holding
Explain the court’s holding in the case.
Add the Key [and put it first]
Once you complete steps one through three, add the key legal proposition. This is where you tell your reader why you have included this case illustration by explaining what this case tells you about how the law is applied. This key legal proposition is often linked to the reasoning of the case.
The key proposition sentence then goes at the beginning of your paragraph as the topic sentence because it orients the reader. This ensures that you avoid the typical One L case illustration paragraph, which begins, “In the Jones case, the court . . .” You are learning to be a lawyer and to write for other busy lawyers and judges. Lead with why your case illustration is important; a legal memorandum or brief is not a compilation of case briefs and should not read like one.
Try using this “Three Steps Plus the Key” formula to draft case illustrations that are effective and complete.
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