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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Using Legal Writing Skills on Law School Exams



Using Legal Writing Skills on Law School Exams

Using Legal Writing Skills on Law School Exams


Exam season will soon be upon us, so now is a perfect time to talk about how to use legal writing skills on law school exams. Your legal writing skills can help you organize your thoughts and write thorough exam answers. 

Follow IRAC, CREAC, or Similar Structure

Many professors grade exams by looking to see how many issues you address or “key words” you use—known as issue spotting. Professors can find that information much more easily in exam answers that are organized using IRAC, CREAC, or a similar structure.

Take, for example, a contracts question. Your answer could start:

The question is whether the Plaintiff can prove the existence of a valid contract. (The I in IRAC)
or
Under these facts, Plaintiff likely can prove the existence of a valid contract. (The C in CREAC)

Then, you’ll move on to give the elements of a contract (the R).

To prove a contract, the Plaintiff must show that there was (1) an offer; (2) an acceptance; (3) consideration; and (4) a meeting of the minds.

Unless you have a professor who expects you to reference specific cases, you likely won’t have a rule explanation section (where you would normally outline explanatory cases either in long-hand or parenthetical form). Instead, you’ll move right into your analysis (the A).



Here, the Plaintiff can prove the Defendant made an offer because, on October 24, 2014, the Defendant sent the Plaintiff an email offering to sell the Plaintiff 500 widgets at a cost of $50 per widget. Further, the Plaintiff can prove he accepted the Defendant’s offer because the following day, on October 25, 2014, the Plaintiff replied to the Defendant’s email accepting the offer of 500 widgets at a cost of $50 per widget.

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You’ll continue to talk about the remaining elements of consideration and meeting of the minds and finish your analysis, taking the opportunity to talk about as many sub-issues as you can spot (i.e. contract sufficiently definite, not governed by statute of frauds etc.)

Then, you’ll conclude by summarizing:
Therefore, the Plaintiff likely can show the existence of a valid and enforceable contract (the C).
Address Counterarguments to Gain Additional Points
Addressing counterarguments is an important in a law school exam as it is in a memo or brief and should help you get additional points.
In the example above, the hypothetical facts might suggest that the Defendant will argue he had withdrawn the offer before the Plaintiff accepted it. Thus, your analysis should address that counterargument:
Here, the Plaintiff can prove the Defendant made an offer because, on October 24, 2014, the Defendant sent the Plaintiff an email offering to sell the Plaintiff 500 widgets at a cost of $50 per widget. Further, the Plaintiff can prove he accepted the Defendant’s offer because the following day, on October 25, 2014, the Plaintiff replied to the Defendant’s email accepting the offer of 500 widgets at a cost of $50 per widget.
In its offer email, the Defendant did not specify a time by which the Plaintiff had to respond to the offer, meaning that the Plaintiff could accept the offer at any time until the Defendant withdrew it and notified the Plaintiff that the offer was withdrawn. While the Defendant may have subjectively intended to withdraw the offer on the afternoon of October 24, 2014 after he sold the 500 widgets to a third-party, the Defendant failed to communicate that withdrawal to the Plaintiff. Thus, when the Plaintiff replied to the Defendant’s email on October 25, 2014, the Plaintiff accepted the offer. 

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Address Related Arguments to Gain Additional Points
Further, as you would in a memo or brief, you should address all related issues that might arise. In our contract hypothetical, the facts might suggest that even if the parties did not reach an enforceable contract, the Plaintiff should be able to recover under an alternative theory, such as promissory estoppel.

If so, after you complete the full IRAC, CREAC etc. for your main contract issue, you'll want to follow the same structure to address each related issue:

Even if the Plaintiff cannot prove the existence of a valid contract, he may be able to recover under the theory of promissory estoppel (the I or C).

To recover under the theory of promissory estoppel, the Plaintiff must prove: (1) the Defendant made a clear and unambiguous promise; (2) the Plaintiff reasonably relied on the promise, and the Plaintiff’s reliance was foreseeable; (3) the Plaintiff changed his position to his detriment in reliance on the promise; (4) injustice would result if the Plaintiff were not permitted to recover (the R).

The first element is met because the Defendant made a clear and unambiguous promise to sell 500 widgets to the Plaintiff for $50 each. The second element also is met because after the Plaintiff notified the Defendant by email on October 25, 2014 that the Plaintiff wanted to purchase the widgets, the Plaintiff entered into a contract to sell the widgets to a third-party, Smith. The Plaintiff’s reliance on the Defendant’s promise to sell the Plaintiff the widgets was reasonable and foreseeable because… (the A).

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The Plaintiff, therefore, may be able to recover under promissory estoppel if he cannot prove the existence of an enforceable contract. (the C).

Use your legal writing skills to your advantage in your law schools exams to ensure you receive credit for every issue you spot and discuss.

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