by Professor Richard J. Conviser, Chicago Kent College of Law
Twentieth Ed. - 1996
Unnerving, isn't it?
The excitement of starting law school somehow evaporates when you walk out of the bookstore with half a ton of study materials! Casebooks, hornbooks, restatements, and other strange texts - thousands of pages, crammed with unfamiliar language and terminology. Then there is the talk of summaries, outlines, and "canned briefs." And perhaps you've even been offered dog-eared notes from some second-year student. How are you supposed to cope with so much reading material? Is all of this material the law? If so, how can you possibly digest it?
To heighten your uneasiness, there's a gnawing uncertainty about class: What's this "Socratic method" all about? What's the purpose of the cat-and-mouse game? What are you supposed to do with all those hypos, and with the mountains of class notes you're taking? How will you get a handle on all this material when it comes time for finals?
The purpose of this booklet is to answer some of these questions for you.
First of all, you should understand that studying law is radically different from your undergraduate studies. Law school doesn't follow the usual undergraduate pattern of "read, memorize, and regurgitate." You won't get far simply by having a facile memory and a quick pen. Why? Because law is not a static subject that you can master by memorizing a set of rules. Indeed, there are few absolute rules that apply in all cases. (A hypo or two in class will open your eyes on this point ! )
Rather, "rules" of law develop mostly on a case-by-case basis and are subject to continued growth and change. Courts constantly review and evaluate earlier decisions in light of present realities; and, given the right circumstances, they may overrule or depart from those decisions. Also, the real world being what it is, new and different issues constantly arise which aren't covered at all by earlier decisions.
So, learning what's been decided in the past is only the first step. You must also develop the ability to reason from past decisions to solve present problems.
What does that mean? For openers, it means that instead of simply memorizing the holding or "rule" of a case, you must be able to identify the particular factors that led the court to decide the case the way it did, and then determine whether those same factors are present in the case you're now considering. If different factors are present, you must decide whether they justify a different result.
It also means that you must consider any changes in the economic or social conditions that surrounded the earlier decision, any conflicting rules or theories from other cases, and, most importantly, the practical impact of your conclusions in the particular matter at hand.
In short, you must learn to analyze a problem rather than merely memorize rules. This is what "learning to think like a lawyer" is all about.
As you may surmise, this process doesn't lend itself to any magical short-cuts allowing you to pass through law school without pain or strain. Nevertheless, there are techniques that will economize your time and help you get the most out of your study efforts. This booklet is designed to acquaint you with these techniques. It will also introduce you to GILBERT LAW SUMMARIES, relied upon by tens of thousands of students as an integral part of their law studies in addition, of course, to the immensely popular BAR/BRI First, Second and Third Year Programs.
Your law professors have probably warned you to spend at least two hours preparing for each hour of class. They're right. At least at the beginning of your studies, you'll probably find this is a conservative estimate of the time it takes to read and brief the assigned cases.
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most from the time and effort spent preparing for class:
(1) Use a "road map" for your reading assignments: Before setting out, it always helps to know where you're going. Therefore, before you start reading the assigned cases, look at the chapter headings and the table of contents in the casebook. These will tell you the topic to which the assigned cases ostensibly relate, and where this topic fits in the overall course.
Next, learn a little about the topic before you start reading the assigned cases. You will find it helpful at this point to look at the GILBERT LAW SUMMARY on the subject. Find the topic in the summary of contents, and skim through the materials. This will give you a quick overview of the broad principles and problems you are about to encounter and enable you to read the assigned cases much more purposefully.
(2) Read - really read - the assigned cases: As you're already aware, your nose is going to be buried in the books for the next several years. So, your initial task is to learn to read cases. "Read?" you say, "I can read. I certainly wouldn't have gotten this far if I couldn't." All well and good. But you must now learn to read as a lawyer.
As you'll soon discover, speed-reading ability is not going to help. You must now read carefully and critically; every paragraph, every sentence, every word may have some special relevance for you to decipher.
To illustrate, read the following excerpt from one of Mark Twain's stories:
It was a crisp morning in early October. The lilacs and the laburnums lit with the glory fires of autumn. Hungburning and flashing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the wingless wild things that have their homes in the treetops and would visit together; the larch and the pomegranate flung their purple and yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary esophagus slipt upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity and the peace of God.
Twain received many letters about this passage, the gist of which was, "What in hell is an esophagus?" In response, he published a letter indicating that the entire paragraph was a spoof. He notes:
Alas, if I had but left that one treacherous word out, I should have scored: scored everywhere; and the paragraph would have slidden through every reader's sodden sensibilities like oil, and left not a suspicion behind . . .
Lilacs of course bloom in the spring. In the fall, the leaves simply dry up and drop off. They are hardly lit with the glory fires of autumn. A laburnum is a poisonous Eurasian bush. And what wingless things have you ever known that make their homes in the treetops?
The whole passage was sheer nonsense! But it serves to make the point: You cannot read legal cases this way. Your critical faculties must be constantly in operation, analyzing and questioning everything you read. It isn't so much a matter of weeding out conscious trickery, as in the Twain example, as it is ensuring that you really understand what you're reading.
Don't read law cases when you're feeling tired. Don't attempt to skim or scan the pages. Don't let your eyes or your grey matter get lazy. Concentrate on every phrase until you are sure that you understand it - really understand it!
(3) Keep a good law dictionary at hand: Part of your initiation into the legal profession is learning its special language. Law is a technical language with technical meanings, and you must absorb these meanings as soon as possible.
So, when you're reading cases, always keep a good law dictionary at hand. When a word is used which you don't understand - or when a word is used in some unusual sense - stop immediately and look it up. The meaning of one word or phrase may very well alter or affect the whole case, and you'll be spinning your wheels mentally until you focus on the correct meaning.
For example, consider the following passage:
From a review of the affidavits filed by the moving party, it is apparent that the property has been restored so that the application for injunctive relief presents a question that has become moot. Said application is therefore dismissed.
What does the word "moot" mean? Unless you know, you surely won't understand what happened. (As used here, it means that the question has become purely academic - i.e., no real controversy exists on this point between the parties.)
For day-to-day use, some of the paperback law dictionaries are as good as the hefty, bound volumes. The better paperbacks usually have shorter and simpler definitions. They may not have all the Latin phrases and terminology contained in the bigger dictionaries, but you won't need those unless you have a casebook containing a lot of early English cases (or a particularly sadistic law professor).
One good way of making sure you remember the meanings of legal terms is to use them in your case briefs. Once having done so, you'll tend to recall the context in which you used the word, and its meaning will sink in.
(4) Briefing cases: Law school classes are still largely based on the "case method"; i.e., the professor leads the class through an analysis and discussion of significant cases, as opposed to a straight lecture. It's your job to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned cases, and that means learning how to read and brief those cases as efficiently as possible.
That is easier said than done, of course. Long, hard hours have to be spent learning how to brief a case. But don't begrudge this effort. Briefing cases is absolutely indispensable in "learning to think like a lawyer." It gives you an organized approach to analyzing reported cases, and it forces you to distill the facts and reasoning down to manageable size. These are abilities upon which practicing lawyers rely for their livelihood, and which you must therefore develop and polish in law school.
Here are some techniques and suggestions that will help you in briefing cases.
(a) Learn "law school shorthand": Use abbreviations for words commonly involved in briefing cases or taking class notes. Here is a suggested list of abbreviations:
AE ....................Assignee ¢ ............................complaint aff..................affirm(ed) c/a ....................cause of action agt ......................agent c/c .......................counterclaim ans .....................answer c/d .....................corpus delicti AR.....................Assignor c/l .........................common law a/r .........assumption of risk c/p ............... condition precedent b/c ................... because c/s .............. condition subsequent b/p ............burden of proof CP ................. community property B ..................beneficiary Con ................constitutional(ity) BFP ........bona fide purchaser corp .......................corporation br/K ........breach of contract ct .............................. court dir ex ......direct examination pp ...................personal property D ....................defendant p'ship .............. ..... partnership dem ...................demurrer R ....................rule (or holding) EE ....................employee RAP ......... Rule Against Perpetuities eq ......................equity rev ........................ reverse(d) ER ....................employer RIL.................. res ipsa loquitur ev ....................evidence rp .......................real property F ........................facts RS .........................Restatement g/r ...............general rule § ............................. section H ......................husband S ............................. statute HDC .......holder in due course SC .......................Supreme Court I ........................issue S/F ..................Statute of Frauds int ...................interest S/L .............statute of limitations J .....................judgment S/U ....................statute of uses J/D......judgment for defendant T............................... tenant J/P .....judgment for plaintiff TC ........................ trial court J/aff ........judgment affirmed t/c .................. tenant in common J/rev ........judgment reversed TE ............................ trustee j/t ...............joint tenant TP ..................... .. third party K .....................contract TPB ............third party beneficiary LL ....................landlord maj ............. majority view UCC ............Uniform Commercial Code min ..............minority view n/a .............not applicable v .............................. versus neg .................negligence W ................................ wife OE .....................offeree w/ ............................... with OR......................offeror w/a ................weight of authority P ....................plaintiff w/i ............................ within p ......................partner w/o ............................without PE ....................promisee x/c ........................cross-claim PR ....................promisor x¢ .....................cross complaint p/f ................prima facie x ex ................ cross examination
(b) Use a briefing system: Use a system that will force you to dissect the cases sufficiently for analytic purposes. Often, "misreading" a case is entirely the result of failing to break it into its essential elements. Here is a format that is useful for this purpose. (We'll use some abbreviations from the previous page.)
F (facts): Briefly state the essential facts leading to the con controversy. For example:
D refuses to perform promise to paint P's house, claiming mistake in offer as result of D's underestimating cost of materials. P sues for damages.
TC (trial court): State the judgment or decision in the trial court:
I (issue): State the issue or issues raised on appeal:
Does OR's mistake in estimating cost of performance, unknown to OE, prevent formation of K or excuse performance of K?
R (rule): State the disposition on appeal and the rule of the case:
J/aff. OR's mistake was unilateral only and there is binding K on terms proposed to OE.
Rationale: This is the most important part of your case brief. You must get the gist of the court's reasoning - i.e., why it arrived at its holding:
Objective theory of Ks: To protect reliance on promises, OR is held to perform that which reasonable person would have under stood he promised. Fact that OR was mistaken as to some collateral matter (here, price of materials) does not alter his obligation since OE neither knew or had reason to know of OR's mistake.
As further illustration, a judicial opinion and case brief of that opinion are included in the Appendix to this booklet.
(c) Keep your "briefs" brief: Notwithstanding all the effort that goes into a case brief, it is not something to be retained for posterity. Its sole purpose is to help you recall the case in sufficient detail to discuss it in class and to integrate it into your class notes. Once class is over and your notes are in shape, it's unlikely that you will be reviewing your case briefs. Indeed, when exam preparation begins, you'll be relying on entirely different materials (more on this later).
Keep this in mind as you do your briefing. Don't attempt a detailed restatement of the entire case. Avoid copying citations. (You can always look these up in the casebook if you need to.) Simply try to capture the gist of the facts and the court's reasoning, and put these in as few words as possible.
Proficiency at briefing cases is absolutely necessary if you're serious about becoming a lawyer. Briefing forces you to summarize facts and distill reasoning and, equally important, to express legal concepts in your own words. There is just no substitute for the mental exercise of reading a case, picking it apart, and putting it back together in your own vocabulary. It is this ability that is tested on law school finals and on which you will rely for your livelihood when in practice. Case closed!
And now, a little good news: Learning how to brief cases is something that can be mastered by reasonable practice, and once you learn, it's like swimming or riding a bicycle - you're not likely to forget. So you need not commit yourself to briefing every case in every class throughout your law school career: You must simply commit yourself to fully briefing cases until you're very good at it, which for most students means throughout the first year of law school.
(d) What about "book briefing"? This is probably the stage you will reach after - repeat, after - you've mastered the art of writing full case briefs. Most law students find that they can adequately prepare for class in the second and third years by "book briefing" the assigned cases.
A book brief is an art unto itself. It is not simply a matter of underlining every sentence as you go through the case. Rather, you must first read through the case quickly to get a sense of what it is about, and then go back through a second time, annotating the margins with the essential points of the case. (Here's where your "law school shorthand" abbreviations will be invaluable!)
Be very selective in your underlining - mark the highlights only. You may find it effective to use different colored pens to signal the various elements of your brief -for example, blue might be used for the "trial court" holding; red for the "issue" on appeal; yellow for the "rule," etc. Otherwise, the entire page may appear to be a confusing mass of lines when you are called on in class.
In any event, strive to do as little underlining, and as much annotating of the margins, as possible. Putting the facts and reasoning in your own words (however terse) forces your brain to stay in gear; i.e., it makes you read critically and carefully and analyze what you're reading. And that's what briefing is all about.
Law school classes are a world apart from most undergraduate classes. There is little "recitation" as such, and relatively little lecturing by the professor. Instead, the professor usually directs a group discussion of the assigned cases.
This is generally done by a combination of questioning, cajoling, encouraging, baiting, embarrassing, and reasoning with one or more members of the class. A favorite of many law professors is the Socratic method, sometimes known as "leading the helpless lamb to slaughter." In this venerable game, a student is led out onto the proverbial limb by a series of questions which ultimately forces him or her to adopt some totally indefensible position - whereupon the limb drops of its own weight, to the chagrin of the luckless victim.
What's the purpose of such a sadistic game? Basically, to stretch your analytic muscles and (once again) to teach you how to think like a lawyer. The give and take between you and the professor forces you to think on your feet, by reasoning and analogy. It also gives you a taste of the adversary process at work!
Here are some suggestions on how to handle yourself in classroom discussions:
(1) Focus on the reasoning of the assigned cases: If called upon to present one of the assigned cases in class, you should be prepared to state briefly the essential facts of the case, the precise issue or issues decided in the trial court and raised on appeal, and - most importantly - the reasoning by which the appellate court reached its conclusion. As discussed below, for purposes of class discussion, the court's reasoning is usually as important as the "rule" or holding of the case.
(2) Learn to make your own judgments of the case: The assigned cases should not be taken by you as "gospel." As a matter of fact, some of the cases will probably express views that have been discredited and are included in the casebook for purposes of comparison and criticism.
So, keep an open mind on the merits of each case and, especially, on the validity of the reasoning expressed by the court. Analyze the decision with a little healthy skepticism. Don't be awed by the fact that a respected appellate court decided the case in a particular manner. Consider the issues involved as if they had never been decided before, and weigh the arguments raised by each of the litigants. Then make your own evaluation of the result reached and the reasoning expressed in the decision.
(3) Make arguments that are practical and fair: Don't make the mistake of challenging a decision with generalities or loose talk. It never suffices to disagree with a case "as a matter of principle," or because the decision "doesn't make any sense." Your professor will promptly skewer you with questions probing your "principles" or "sense." Instead, make sure that your criticism of a decision is based on specific reasons, that these reasons are founded in logic, and that they will lead to a just result.
Remember that the law is inherently practical. Therefore, always test your position by whether the result reached is a practical one. For example, wherever possible, try to argue for positions that will avoid or shorten the litigation or prevent further lawsuits. Furthermore, you should generally avoid positions based on pure technicalities that would impose an unconscionable hardship on some party or lead to obviously unfair results.
(4) Answering class "hypos": So far, so good, but you're not out of the woods yet. The professor is still interrogating you, but now the questions have shifted from the assigned case to hypothetical fact situations - which may or may not resemble the facts in the assigned cases. You are supposed to decide whether the "rule" or holding in the assigned case should apply here as well.
The purpose of this exercise is to test just how far the rules in the assigned cases can be extended. You're expected to determine whether the various facts in the hypo posed by the professor are sufficiently similar to the facts in the assigned case that the same result should obtain.
Be cautious in answering these class "hypos" - don't jump to conclusions. Before you decide that the rule in the assigned case applies to the hypo, always ask yourself whether the reasoning expressed in the assigned case justifies that application of the rule. You'll soon discover "pitfall" cases - mental traps for the unwary - where it would actually be inconsistent with the court's reasoning to apply the rule. You'll garner lots of points with your professor by being able to spot such cases.
(5) Join in the skirmishes: After your initial experiences with "student baiting" and the embarrassment of being hoist on your own petard during classroom discussion, you may wonder what the whole process achieves that wouldn't be better served by a lecture clearly explaining the relevant rules, exceptions, and qualifications. The short answer is that these professor-student classroom skirmishes, like the process of case briefing, are indispensable in acquiring the tools of a successful lawyer. Your ability to analyze and argue a case is what your clients will be paying for some day.
For this reason, you should approach law school classes as a valuable learning experience and participate actively in class discussion. It is a mistake to assume that "someone else can say it better," or that you will gain as much from listening and taking notes as from engaging in the discussion. Therefore, even if you were not a "hand raiser" during your undergraduate years, force yourself to take an active part in law school class dialogues. You will find the long-term benefits well worth the initial discomfort.
The work you do immediately following class is as important as your preparation for class. It is essential that you review your case briefs and class notes as soon as possible following class - preferably the same day. There are probably corrections or additions to make in your case briefs, possible gaps in your class notes, or maybe you have some lingering doubt concerning a hypo or question raised in class.
Don't procrastinate. Right after class is the time to fill in those gaps and resolve those questions. Your notes will be fresh, and your mind will still be attuned to the problems involved. So, get thee to the library, do whatever additional reading or research is required, and put your notes and briefs in proper shape.
At this point you may find it helpful to turn to your GILBERT LAW SUMMARY. You can check your class notes for completeness against the relevant portion of the GILBERT. The summary will show you how the various topics that you are studying relate to each other. It will also help you fill in the gaps and give you citations to other sources if needed.
Another good idea is to take a look at the review questions and answers at the back of your GILBERT which cover the topic you are studying. These are short True/False, Yes/No questions which test your understanding of the rules and rationale involved. Going over these questions right after class is an excellent way of hammering home the materials, and clearing up areas as to which you may be vague or uncertain. Explanatory answers are provided which are keyed to the appropriate section of the summary.
When you come to the end of a chapter or section of your casebook, it's time to go back and summarize your notes and briefs for that part of the course. Otherwise, if you're like most law students, your notes and briefs will be a mountainous tangle of words by the time of your finals. Systematic summarizing of these materials will vastly enhance their value to you. Here's how to do it:
First, focus on organization of your materials. Sketch an outline of the chapter or section showing where each topic and subtopic fits. This will enable you to include all materials pertaining to a particular topic at the proper place. Also, later on, as you study and review your summary, the more logical the sequence the quicker the material will sink in. (Your GILBERT will be of substantial assistance here, since it contains an analytical organization of the entire subject, and it is complete enough to set out each of the topics and subtopics you will need to cover.)
Next, with this overall organization in mind, create a "mini-text" on each topic by synthesizing the legal principles from your class notes and case briefs pertaining to that topic. Your job is to extract the "kernels of truth" from each of the cases and problems discussed in class and work them into a logical sequence within each topic.
It is generally best to start your summary of each topic by formulating as broad and general a rule as possible. Follow this with a concise statement of the reasoning or rationale supporting the rule. Then show any limitations or exceptions to the rule. You can follow this by referring to leading cases as illustrations or examples of how the rule and exceptions apply.
We heartily recommend this process of summarizing your notes. Creating your own summary from scratch is the surest way of mastering the subject matter. Expressing the relevant legal principles in your own words assures your comprehension of them and gives you a perspective on how the various principles interrelate. (Your GILBERT will be of substantial help to you in writing your own summary, as it contains all of the essentials in a logical outline format. You can cross-check each section of your own summary against the GILBERT for organization and completeness.)
We also recognize that, due to time pressures and other factors, many students will find it impossible to prepare their own summaries from scratch in every subject. Where this is the case, you can effectively create "your own" law summary by annotating and expanding your GILBERT. After each class, simply plug in whatever additional material you deem significant from your class notes and case briefs. By following this procedure, you'll have everything you need when it comes time to study for law school finals.
Whatever your personal study habits, there are several important practices to follow in preparing for law school exams.
(1) Use your own materials: Your own words and phrasing will always be far more meaningful to you than those of any other person. Therefore, don't make the mistake of slighting your own summary at exam time in favor of "cram" materials prepared by someone else. Stick to the material you have been developing during the course. This is the time to refine your own material, not to abandon it.
(2) Study reasoning rather than case names: Except for rare "landmark" cases (e.g., Palsgraf in the field of negligence), it's not necessary to memorize the names or holdings of particular cases for law exams. Instead, focus on the underlying policies and reasoning in the cases you have been studying throughout the course. Your instructor is more interested in your ability to analyze and resolve legal problems than in your ability to memorize case names and holdings. Therefore, make certain that you understand the policy factors and rationale that the courts have expressed - particularly in the difficult or unsettled areas of the course, because these are the areas most likely to be tested on your exams.
(3) Prepare study outlines: There's an old saw about the law student who prepared progressively shorter outlines of the course until he had it boiled down to a single word, at which point he unfortunately forgot the word! It isn't necessary (or advisable) to go this far, of course. But it is essential that you prepare your own outline in preparation for your exams . You've got to get the "feel" of the course; i.e., how various issues and problems in one part of the course relate to each other. This just can't be done with voluminous case briefs and class notes, nor even with the comprehensive summary you have been preparing. A well-organized, manageable study outline is essential.
This is another point at which your GILBERT will be of vast assistance. The "Capsule Summary" of each GILBERT is a condensed outline of the summary. You'll find that it contains an analytical organization of the course which can serve as the framework for your studies, and contains key words and phrases to bring to mind the essential materials in your summary, notes, and briefs. Use the Capsule Summary as a base for your own, personalized outline.
Make sure that your outline is detailed enough to recall all the key points covered in your course, including divergent views and theories. At the same time, keep it in terse form so that you can distill the whole course into a manageable number of pages. A good study outline should probably be around 20 pages or so.
When your outline is complete, review it repeatedly until every point sinks in and the organization of the entire course becomes clear. You'll probably find yourself shouting "Eureka!" as you finally get that overall picture of the course, which is essential to real understanding of the subject matter.
(4) Develop an issue-spotting approach: Once you have command of the substantive materials, try to develop an approach that will help you spot potential issues on your exams. You do this by developing a checklist of important points in each of the major areas of the course, and by focusing on the interrelationships among the various rules and principles you have been studying. For example, where an exam question raises an issue involving negligent conduct, your approach should automatically cause you to consider not only the essential elements of the tort of negligence (duty, breach, causation. damages) but also each of the various exceptions or defenses that may operate to limit liability in the particular case. Again, your GILBERT will be of substantial assistance to you, as it contains both "Chapter Approach" sections, which give you an analytic approach to each major topic, and an overall "Approach to Exams" section designed to assist you in reviewing the entire course for examination purposes.
(5) Practice exam writing: Most instructors make available copies of former exam questions they have given. By all means take the time and effort to work through these questions. They will help you sharpen your analytic ability and also give you a reliable gauge as to the number and kind of issues you are likely to encounter on that instructor's exams. Don't merely skim through them. Force yourself to sit down and actually write out an answer within the time limit given on the question. That's the only way to come to grips with the issues. If your instructor is willing, ask him or her to review your practice answer with you. If not, the next best thing is to work with a study group and critique each other's answers or to answer the GILBERT Sample Exam Questions and compare your answers to the model answers provided.
Most law school exams call for essay-type answers, designed to test your ability to analyze and resolve legal problems. Your answer must demonstrate the ability to spot the precise legal issues involved in the problem, and to provide a lawyer-like solution to those issues based on the materials studied throughout the course and your own reasoning ability. The following suggestions should be considered in writing your exams:
(1) Analyze the problem carefully: Read the problem through once quickly and determine its general nature. Focus on the question asked at the end of the problem (e.g., "What are the rights and liabilities of the parties'?" or "What advice would you give P, and why?"). Keeping in mind the question asked, read the problem through again, slowly and carefully. Squeeze every word and phrase to raise all potential issues; you will later eliminate those that are not logically relevant. Ordinarily, it should not be necessary to read in or stretch the facts to reach the issues. Instead, confine yourself to the facts given and the logical inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Apply your "approach" (supra, page 19) to make sure that you have raised all relevant issues.
(2) Organize your thoughts: After you have completed your analysis, chart the issues and the manner in which you will resolve them before you start writing. Arrange the issues in the sequence in which you would expect a court to deal with them, i.e., normally, jurisdictional issues first, then liability, then remedies. Jot down the points you will discuss in sufficient detail to force you to think the problem through to its conclusion. Make sure that your analysis is leading to a fair and practical solution; if not, recheck your analysis.
(3) Don't start writing until your analysis and organization is complete: You'll usually find it necessary to spend at least one-fourth of the time allocated for the question in analyzing the problem and organizing your answer. Don't be concerned that others begin writing before you do; law instructors are usually more concerned in the quality than the quantity of a student's answer. Also, a logical organization and clear expression of ideas can do wonders for a solid substantive answer and can even bolster a weak answer. Finally, you'll find you can write faster than you'd suppose.
(4) When you are ready to begin writing, use the I-R-A-C format for each issue raised:
(a) First, specify the issue: State the issue in precise legal terms (e.g., "Did Defendant's mistake in computing his bid prevent the formation of an enforceable contract?"). Avoid generalizations and fence-straddling phraseology (e.g., "Can the offeree sue for breach of contract?").
(b) Next, state the applicable law - the rule and reasoning applicable to the issue: If the courts dealing with the problem have expressed divergent views, don't make the mistake of just discussing the "general view" or "majority view." Consider and evaluate all relevant views. Again, make certain that you express the underlying rationale behind each view or rule of law. (c) Then, apply the law to the facts: Avoid the common error of stating a rule and then jumping to the conclusion that the rule should be applied. Your instructor will not infer a supporting argument for you - you must spell it out. Therefore, with respect to each element of law involved, show which facts in the case support (or prevent) application of the rule. Discuss and weigh the facts given and logical inferences to be drawn therefrom. But again, do not read in or stretch the facts to reach some distorted application of the rule.
(d) Finally, come to a conclusion on each issue: Make sure that you have answered the question asked (e.g., if the question is "What advice would you give?" state clearly and explicitly your advice). Never leave an issue "hanging," or end your discussion of the problem with a question. If a number of solutions are possible, discuss the merits of each, but always select one position as your decision and state why. Remember that in close cases, it is generally best to select the most practical and fair decision, and avoid a decision that disposes of the issues on purely technical grounds. Most law instructors appreciate and encourage independent and original legal reasoning. Therefore, don't consider yourself bound by the "general rule" or "majority view" in answering an exam unless the question clearly calls for such.
(5) Remember these other helpful pointers:
(a) Budget your time: If you have allocated one-fourth of your time to analysis and organization, you should write only in such detail that you will cover all points raised in your analysis in the remaining time. Also, always save at least two or three minutes at the end of the period to review your answer and to clarify and improve it. You may pick up grade points simply by making your answer more readable or by catching obvious errors.
(b) Stick to the issues: It is not advisable to go into matters not directly raised by the exam question. Avoid the temptation to recite broad segments of the law which you may have committed to memory but which in reality have little to do with the problem raised. You will often find that you are short of time in writing a law exam, and it is therefore dangerous to digress from the actual issues.
(c) Emphasize what counts: Law exams are usually graded more heavily on certain issues than on others. Therefore, in writing your answer, spend as much time as possible on the more controversial or difficult parts of the problem. You should not minimize or skip over preliminary points, but your instructor is usually more concerned with the way you handle the difficult issues of the problem, and will grade accordingly. Except where the question clearly calls for it, discussions of historical materials, superseded doctrines, or discredited cases should be kept to a minimum.
(d) Make sure your answer is readable: A grader is not likely to be impressed by the logic of an answer that cannot be read or is difficult to decipher. Therefore, if your handwriting borders on the illegible, it will be helpful for you to learn to type your exams. (Typing is also a boon to those whose handwriting is so slow that it puts them at a disadvantage timewise on law exams.) Whether you write or type, keep your sentences short and paragraph frequently. It is also a good idea to leave an extra line between paragraphs; it enhances readability and provides room for insertion of thoughts that occur to you later. A judicious use of underlining, for emphasis. is generally encouraged.
The key to success in the study of law is hard work, and there is just no way around this fact. You must learn now to do the reading, briefing, and organizing that are second nature to a practicing attorney. Accordingly, don't allow yourself to fall into the habit of skimping on your studies throughout the semester and then attempting to "cram" a course just before exams. This generally doesn't work at all. You must wrestle with the issues throughout the course in order to obtain the perspective essential to real understanding of the problems involved, and to doing well on your exams.
It is our hope that the suggestions contained in this booklet will assist you in your study efforts, and in developing the abilities that will spell success for you in law school and as a practicing attorney. Good luck!