What’s the first thing most law students do when they get to the a “hard” part of a law school exam? No, not cry (most people do that after the exam). The average law student starts drawing conclusions.
If you think about it dispassionately, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Why would you jump right to a conclusion, when you know the analysis is difficult? Um, there’s your answer. If it’s hard to do the analysis, it’s tempting to skip it! (Who really likes doing hard things?)
Why This is a Bad Idea
Writing conclusory answers to hard questions is a bad idea for several reasons:
- Professors really hate it. Put yourself in the shoes of your professor. You’ve spent a lot of time writing a fiendishly difficult exam, and you’re feeling pretty proud of it. You read the first answer, which is going okay on the warm-up issues, then it gets to the really hard stuff — the stuff you’re particularly pleased with — and says “Clearly Plaintiff has no claim here.” WTF?!? Seriously? You’re going to skip the good stuff and tell me that “clearly” the potential plaintiff has no claim. I hate you! C+. Next!
- You don’t get very many points for drawing the right conclusions. The point of a law school exam isn’t to get the “right” answer. At best, that gets you maybe 10% of the points. Two students can both get As, and end up with different conclusions on close questions (trust me — happened with two TAs I know). The points are mostly in the analysis. If you want to break it down, it’s probably something like this: issue (10%), rule (10%), conclusion (10%), analysis (70%). If you skip the analysis and jump to the conclusion, you’re leaving A LOT of points on the table.
- It’s more obvious than you think. There’s something odd about an unsupported conclusion — it really attracts attention. If you’re reading an answer, and someone says “Clearly plaintiff has no claim,” what’s your first reaction? Mine’s to ask “Why?” If there’s no answer to that Why?, it’s very, very obvious that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Not a great impression to leave!
So, the next time you find yourself on an exam writing that something is “obvious” or “clearly” the case, STOP and ask a question: Is this really so clear cut?
If not, deal with the ambiguity, and your grades will improve markedly.
A Template for What to Do Instead
Here’s a template for one way to approach difficult issues. It’s in IRAC format, because lots of professors like that, but you can modify at will.
Steps to go through for a “hard” question:
- Identify the issue (The key fact is…)
- State the rule and how this scenario is different (Because Plaintiff wasn’t touching the briefcase, Case X doesn’t apply directly.)
- Analyze each side of the argument (Defendant will argue… Plaintiff will argue…)
- Decide who wins AND explain why (X is likely to win because…)
Pretty simple, right?
Any time you’re feeling panicked, you can fall back on this template. The most important element is #3: “Defendant will argue…” then “Plaintiff will argue….”
If you can make both sides of the argument clearly, with reference to the appropriate legal and factual ambiguities, your conclusion hardly matters. (Yes, you still want to draw a conclusion, and give a good reason after the “because,” but if the question is legitimately difficult, it’s probably a close judgment call about which way the case will come out, so either way is okay.)
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Legal analysis is more than simply identifying facts that matter on an exam. The writer must demonstrate what it is about the facts or what can be inferred therefrom to show why the rule, element, or standard does or does not apply. Also, the couching of the statement as “A will argue, B will argue” can still be conclusory if the reasoning is not supplied. The fact alone that one side will argue it does not make it any more complete.
Absolutely! However, I would argue the mere act of writing out each side’s arguments will encourage students to think that they might want to do the analysis. In any case, it’s a necessary first step.
GEGE A JOSHUA
My last semester was very much below my A target. I need guidelines to answer law questions.
Some of these posts might be helpful for you: https://lawschooltoolbox.com/law-school-101/#ExamAnswers. Best of luck!
These tips were very helpful to me,and i would like to understand more on the IRAC format, and the 10 exam tips.
Legal writing is bad writing because it is so badly written. Oh wait… sorry, I meant to write, “legal writing is bad” but then had to “law school” the prose to make it sound “fact based.”
Not a big deal… because how absolutely awful legal prose are. See that! The subject came last and I added an unnecessary amplifier for a misplaced adjective- Get it? ha!
One might ask,
‘Why would you jump right to a conclusion, when you know the analysis is difficult?’
One might also write, “The analysis is difficult.”
Of course… no good lawyer would write such a conclusionary (not a real word) statement which one would assume that difficult analysis lends itself to “not jumping to conclusions.”
Yes, this is the common argument made in defense of the horribleness of legal prose: legal prose is somehow different than undergraduate liberal arts arguments because the legal mind must “think differently.” This is really tough analysis so you must not start with a “conclusion.”
While that is “kind of” (but not really) true. You do have to be vague instead of argue a thesis statement- but not true at all because you start by identifying the “issues” and the “rules” that frame your double negatives “but for” the inability to make positive statements (unless asked).
See that, I am writing like a lawyer! I just made a thesis statement while pretending not to make a thesis statement and then digressed into minutia that is stated as a part of a rule.
Ahem! The issues and the rules are not really thesis statements because they are not conclusions.
Never say, “D is liable for hitting P.”
Say, “D is subject to liability for hitting P with a hammer, because D hit P in the head with a hammer, and hitting someone in the head with a hammer is harmful or offensive contact because getting hit in the head with a hammer hurts and/or is offensive.” You say this after stating the rule of course… because god knows, if you don’t repeat parts of the rule in your analysis, then you must not understand the concept.
You must write something like, “C is subject to liability for negligence to J because had C not kicked over the trash can, J would not have fallen down. ‘But for’ the negligence of C, J would not have been hurt by the fall because falling down hurts.” Now, ramble on about actual/ legal cause and add something about proximity/ argue for intervening and lack of intervening causes, for and against proximate causation. Then make the bold conclusion that does not make a conclusion, “C may be subject to liability…”
Congratulations- B plus or better!
See… learn the rules and then write like you are a teenager on LSD explaining something to an alien and you’ll be fine…
Just kidding because I am joking and joking is a form of humor that pokes fun at something because poking fun at something can be funny!