I’ve previously explained how legal writing relates to your other law school classes. But one connection deserves more thorough discussion: the link between legal writing and final exams. Have you noticed an organizational connection already? It all starts with IRAC.
Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion – is the typical structure of law school essay exam answers. In legal writing, you’ve probably encountered at least one alternative acronym intended to help you structure the discussion section of a memo or argument section of a brief. This acronym might be CRAC (both Cs stand for “conclusion”) or CREAC, adding an “E” for explanation. Other formulations might incorporate “Rule Statement” or “Counteranalysis” into the CRAC structure.
Are these just different names for the same thing? Basically, yes, because the general structure of legal analysis is to identify a rule and apply it to facts. That’s what you do in legal writing and what you’ll do on exams. It’s what judges do in their opinions. It’s what lawyers do every day.
Although the overall structure is generally the same, there are significant differences between a legal writing memo and an exam answer. The goal of all legal writing is to satisfy the needs of your audience. The audience for your memo (professor role-playing supervising attorney) is different from the audience for your exam (professor trying to assess whether you’ve learned the material.) Also, you will be under time pressure during exams. Here are some points of comparison between legal writing assignments and exams.
Depth of Rule Explanation
In a legal writing assignment, you’re expected to state the rule and explain it in detail. The explanation will include discussion of cases, with reference to their facts, holdings, and even procedural posture. You might trace the development of a rule over time, or explore the synthesis of a rule from several cases. Your reader needs to understand the law; your job is to explain it.
On an exam, you will not be expected to provide as much detail. While you are likely to be rewarded for providing some explanation, it may be sufficient to state the rule completely, including exceptions. Your professor wants to assess whether you have learned the rule as discussed in class, not whether you can explain it to a colleague. Of course, the best way to assess how much explanation your professor expects is to review sample answers for your professor’s exams.
Relative Proportion of Explanation and Application
In most legal writing assignments, the explanation and application sections are balanced fairly equally. Your reader wants to see how the law applies to a client’s factual situation and to assess both strengths and weaknesses. Thus, many LRW assignments are crafted so that it’s not possible, and not expected, for you to predict an outcome with confidence.
For most exams, the application is the most important, and longest, section. The application of law to the fact pattern is the key to success on any law school exam. If you have absorbed the law, you should be able to apply it to a novel fact pattern. It is also more likely that you’ll be able to reach a clear answer on an exam than in a predictive memo. Again, your professor’s past exams are the best guide here.
Use of Cases
Part of what you’re graded on in legal writing is how well you understood and used precedent. Did you find the right cases in your research? Did you select the best cases to support your argument? Did you understand the relationship between cases on the same issue?
On an exam, you have to demonstrate your understanding of the law, but you can do this without mentioning a case by name. Typically, your accurate, complete statement of the law is far more important than any reference to a specific case. Still, this may be a matter of your professor’s preference – if she expects case names, then use them. It may also be a matter of your own study habits and memory. Some students can’t help but remember the names of key cases. Or it may be a function of the subject matter; some cases are so important that it’s almost impossible not to say their names (think Erie in Civ. Pro. or Palsgraf in Torts). Go ahead and throw these names in your exam answer, but remember: namechecking a case is no substitute for accurately explaining the rule derived from that case.
Your legal writing assignments will feature perfect Bluebooking (right?). Your professor is trying to inculcate the standards of the profession. Bluebooking matters because it helps a reader locate the authority you’ve cited. Plus it enhances your credibility by showing that you understand professional expectations. But on an exam, if you mention a case by name, you don’t need to include a citation.
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Other helpful Legal Writing posts:
- Embrace The Difference of Legal Writing
- 5 Tips for a Great Legal Writing Assignment
- Dos and Don’ts for Using Sample Documents in Legal Writing
- Podcast Episode 11: Legal Writing 101
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