IRAC, the notorious structural underpinning of many a law school final exam is a relatively straightforward concept: write about four key components — Issue, Rule, Analysis and Conclusion — and do so in that order. How do you handle an exam or practice essay, though, when it isn’t that simple?
Take negligence, for example. You probably learned in the first few weeks of Torts class that negligence is comprised of four essential elements: Duty, Breach, Causation, and Damage. That sounds pretty easy to IRAC, right? The issue is whether the defendant was negligent, the rule is basically just the four elements listed above, you analyze a little bit and then conclude. Sounds like an easy A!? Not quite.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Cramming a negligence essay into a structure built from just these four headers and the basic rule probably isn’t going to be organized and analytical enough to get you the grade you’re looking for. Remember, the analysis portions of an essay exam are probably where your Professor has allocated the bulk of the available points. That means your analysis needs to be comprehensive and set you apart from the competition. You may already know that you should write concisely, use headers, and argue both sides wherever the facts permit. But, once you sit down to IRAC negligence, for example, you may start wondering where the hypothetical reasonable person should be wedging himself into this framework. How about amorphous concepts like foreseeability? Should you analyze that under duty, causation or both?
As you can see, sometimes a topic that may seem relatively simple when you’re listening to a lecture about it, can get pretty convoluted when you actually try to type it up. A similar phenomenon can occur with deceptively tricky subjects such as personal jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, or homicide in Criminal Law. So, how do you organize, make your essay easy to grade, and scoop up as many points as possible? That’s where the mini-IRAC comes in.
A mini-IRAC (“irac”) is a strategy for separating the main, overarching IRAC (e.g. for negligence) into smaller, less overwhelming puzzle pieces. Hopefully, on an exam, the headers and sub-headers you employ in your IRAC and mini-IRAC(s) will mirror those in your attack plans (which is another great reason to get organized now and start practicing and memorizing early!).
Below is an exemplar IRAC for negligence with mini-IRACs built in for various potential sub-issues. Each red parenthetical letter represents the IRAC (or irac) step, and the italicized text offers pointers about what to consider when writing your own essay exams and practice hypos. Keep in mind, there are multiple strategies for formulating a negligence analysis, and you can word these rules differently. The rules I’ve referenced for the purpose of this illustration may not be precisely the same as the ones your Professor is focusing on. So, as always, if you’ve learned something different from your case book or lectures, follow that!
The issue is whether D is liable to P for negligence. An action for negligence requires P to prove four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) causation, and (4) damage. (R)
Duty (i) (mini-IRAC—indentation of this header calls out to the grader that this is a sub-issue)
Every person owes a general duty not to pose an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The claimant must be a foreseeable plaintiff. (r)
* Bring up the Cardozo vs. Andrews distinctions for who is a foreseeable plaintiff and the “zone of danger” test under your rule here if you learned about these.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply the law to the facts you’ve been given and say whether this plaintiff would be foreseeable or not. “Here” is a great buzzword to kick off your analysis paragraph. Use “because” to make sure you are spelling out why certain facts are legally significant.
Thus, … (c)
Conclude as to whether there is a duty or not. “Thus” or “therefore” is a good way to signal that you’re concluding. Keep this part short and sweet. You should have already written everything you wanted to say about why you’re concluding this way in your analysis section above, so no reason to repeat it here.
Assuming the court finds that D owed a duty to P, the next question is what duty D owed and what standard of care will be applied.
Standard of Care (i) (mini-sub-IRAC) (another level of indentation for sub-sub-issues)
The general standard of care is that of a reasonable and prudent person under the same or similar circumstances. This is an objective test. (r)
* Note: Additions or nuances to this rule may apply if you are dealing with children, professionals, mental or physical disabilities, licensees, invitees, special relationships, etc.). If any of these apply, you should consider pulling out a sub-section with its own header depending on how big the issue is and how many facts you have about it.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply the law to your facts and determine which standard of care applies.
Thus, … (c)
Conclude on what the standard of care is going to be.
Breach occurs when D’s conduct falls short of the level required by the applicable standard of care. (r)
* Consider any tests for breach you may have learned about, such as res ipsa loquitur or learned hand, and pull out a sub-section with a header if they apply.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Analyze by applying law to fact. Discuss whether the D has lived up to the standard. Argue back and forth if there are facts to support each side of the argument.
Therefore, … (c)
Say whether the breach element has been met.
There must be a causal link between the D’s breach and the P’s damage. Both actual and proximate cause are required. (r)
Actual Cause (i)
Actual causation is satisfied if “but for” D’s breach, P would not have suffered the harm. (r)
[ANALYSIS] Tie the law to the facts. Use “because” to say whether the but for test has been met. (a), (c)
Proximate Cause (i)
The harm to P must be a foreseeable consequence of D’s actions. (r)
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply law to fact and argue both sides to the extent possible.
* Consider any tests for causation you may have learned, such as the substantial factor test.
* Ask yourself whether there are any superseding cause issues that might cut off the chain of liability.
* If you learned about foreseeability of the type, manner, or degree of harm, discuss those here.
Therefore, … (c)
Conclude on whether proximate cause (and the causation element generally) has been met
P must prove damage in the form of actual harm or injury. (r)
Here, … (a), (c)
Apply law to fact and discuss what P’s damages are, if any.
* Consider whether there are eggshell skull plaintiff issues triggered by your fact pattern.
The court would likely find/not find the D n this case liable to P for negligence because… (C) (overarching “C” from the big IRAC)
Again, keep this brief. You’ve already done the heavy lifting above. No need to reiterate all of your mini-conclusions here.
Well, there it is, a comprehensive IRAC for negligence! Hopefully, you are writing lots of practice hypos and grappling with these kinds of nuanced structural issues months in advance of your final exams. Lots of law students don’t start asking themselves the tough questions about how to break down a topic or struggle through the material with the required depth and precision on their own until they’re actually in the exam room. This can have disastrous consequences!
If you haven’t been teaching yourself the law at this level of intricacy, or if you haven’t tried writing out practice hypos yet, now is the time! Chances are, none of your Professors are going to sit you down and tell you how to do this. It’s up to you to come up with a strategy. And, it’s not easy! Don’t be alarmed if synthesizing all of your lecture notes, case briefs etc. into a format like the one above takes a while.
You may need to spend hours figuring out which piece fits where, and that’s ok! This extra time spent actively struggling through the material (rather than just passively re-reading or flash-carding it) is often what separates the As from the Bs or Cs. Keep in mind, the goal is to make your blueprints now so when the proctor says “go!” you can jump into a fast-paced process with a clear road map that you have already practiced applying many times before.
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