Whether or not attack plans are a new concept for you is kind of unimportant. What is really important to note, is that attack plans are exam-taking “secret sauce.” We aren’t kidding; they can make or break your exam answer!
What Is an Attack Plan?
An attack plan is the step-by-step process you go through to answer an exam question. Often, the attack plan is driven by the law itself. Other times, your professor may give you an attack plan that outlines the way he or she believes the rules should be applied. When it all boils down to it, attack plans tell you how to answer the question. This is why they are so important.
Two Types of Attack Plans: The Checklist v. the Plan
I present to you the idea that there are two types of attack plans—the checklist and the plan. The checklist organizes the law in a way that you can go down the checklist and determine which issues need to be raised in a given question. The plan walks you through an analytical approach of what you need to talk about. With a checklist, you don’t have to talk about everything. With a plan, you need to talk about everything. Check out these examples for clarification:
Are you taking criminal law? Your homicide attack plan may look something like this:
First Degree (intent to kill + pre-meditation + deliberation)
Second Degree (4 theories)
(1) intent to kill
(2) intent to do serious bodily harm
(3) depraved heart or highly reckless killing
(4) felony murder
Voluntary manslaughter (heat of passion)
Now, does this mean that for any homicide question that you would talk about all of these topics? No! That would be a waste of time. However, you want to think through all of these legal issues and talk about those that do apply.
So, mentally, you may go through this checklist and say, “Yup, need to talk about first degree. Yup, need to talk about second-degree intent to kill. Yup, need to talk about voluntary manslaughter or heat of passion.” Now, what this checklist has done is it has organized the law for you so you can ask yourself, “What should I talk about?” and then you know in which order to talk about it. Brilliant, right? So from my example, my essay organization would be as follows (according to the issues I would raise):
First Degree Murder
Second Degree Murder
Super simple, right? Without an attack plan, you wouldn’t necessarily have this organization down and that could cause your answer to be a bit muddled and cause confusion for you on exam day.
Are you taking torts? Intentional torts have their own attack plans. To prove an intentional tort, you usually need to talk about (1) intent (2) elements of the tort (3) causation (4) damages (5) defenses.
This is a plan—if your professor gave you this attack plan, you would need to talk about all of these issues. It isn’t a checklist (as in the above) because you aren’t brainstorming whether or not to talk about intent, you must talk about it! (Please note, not all professors will have such an extensive “plan” for intentional torts. So, defer to the way your professor has presented the law in class.)
Do you see the difference? This attack plan is simply how you apply the law no matter what. You don’t get to make any judgment calls. You just have to follow the directions of the plan.
Great. Now What?
You want to look for these attack plans in your class notes, as your professor will likely discuss them in class. You can also check for them in commercial outlines or supplements. You can even study model answers and derive attack plans from the model answers your professor may hand out. Once you get these attack plans, put them in your outline. You need to know how to apply the law before exam day. Attack plans will help clarify the writing process and streamline your analytical approach—whether a checklist or a plan.
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Here are some other helpful posts:
- How We Think About Law School Exams
- Can Bar Materials Help you Study for Exams?
- The Three Most Important Things You Can Do as Exams Approach
- Could You Explain This Concept to a 5-Year-Old?
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