Asked to re-post an article written last year on IRAC. Here it is....
LAW SCHOOL ESSAYS: What the heck is IRAC???
(copyright PASS 2006)
By the time you get to writing law school essays, you may think “IRAC” stands for “I Really Am Crazy.” You may wonder why you even decided upon law school! But when you get into it, you will find that writing legal exams is really a fairly straightforward exercise. The key is to learn the skills and then practice, practice, practice.
So what is IRAC? A logical template for legal analysis, “IRAC” is an acronym for Issue, Rule, Analysis (or Argument or Application), and Conclusion. Using criminal law as our backdrop, a subject most law students take in the first year of law school, let’s look at IRAC in context.
Criminal law fact patterns often include one or more defendants who will have done a series of actions which arguably amount to criminal offenses. You must use the facts to demonstrate the proof or lack thereof of the requisite conduct, mental state, and/or causation elements of those crimes, and to demonstrate which if any defenses apply.
As with all law exams, the most important skill to successfully answer a criminal law question is careful reading. Start with the “call of the question” or interrogatory (often the end of the fact pattern). This way you learn immediately what the question asks of you, and you will only answer the question or questions asked.
The interrogatory is often something like:
“With what crime or crimes, if any, may be the defendant be charged,”
“Of what crime or crimes may the defendant be found guilty,” or
“Did the court err in convicting the defendant of any crime or crimes?”
You will learn from first reading of the interrogatory that you are in criminal law (very important on the Bar Exam to know which subject you are in!), and what the main focus of your query is (for instance, are you to address the culpability of Defendant Dan only or Defendants Don and Dan?).
After reading the interrogatory, go back and read the entire fact pattern. Use active reading techniques. Take notes as you work through the facts so you spot the issues --the questions, the holes, the gaps...
What is an issue? A hole? A gap? Yes. Let's use this example: Defendant Dufus wanted to burn a structure (had the intent for arson) and set out to burn it (undertook some action), but Dufus only set fire to a chair inside the home, which fire was extinguished before burning or charring any part of the structure itself. Was there a requisite burning for arson?? That is the issue!
Issue spotting is identifying those areas where the facts lead to questions regarding whether or not an element of a crime or defense has been met. The more facts you can use to argue the existence or lack thereof of a particular element, the more attention that issue deserves in your answer.
Note: It is important to mention each element of every applicable crime or defense. For example, one element of burglary is “breaking” into the structure. Even where a fact pattern explicitly states that the defendant “broke the door to go inside,” you would want to say something brief such as, “The breaking element is satisfied here because the facts state that defendant “broke the door” to go inside." While that may seem self-evident, points are often given on law school exams for stating the obvious in a clear and organized fashion. This shows that you SEE the relevance of the particular facts at hand, and can apply those facts to the law.
After you read, take notes and think. Then outline. That is to say, organize the main discussable issues you have identified or spotted. A good bar review will help you with tools to organize the substantive law, help you learn a logical order in which to organize the elements.
Back to IRAC. So the I or issue is about identifying the questions (or “issues”) the fact pattern raises. Any one or sometimes all the elements of each possible offense or defense may be at issue. How do you find “issues?” Some will jump out at you, even on the first read. Other issues, you will need to uncover, perhaps by asking yourself why each fact is present and then testing that fact against the rules (that you know from memory) to see if that fact raises some question. Circle or note issues as you read so you don’t forget those when you have moved on to later issues.
Let’s look at the following sentences: “The Defendant entered the Miller office building to get the umbrella that he had left, then saw the diamond ring, and took it. He then walked out into the rain.” Why are certain facts used? Well, whether or not the "office building" satisfies the "dwelling" element of burglary might raise one issue. The Defendant's going inside in order "to get the umbrella" might raise another –i.e. whether Def had the requisite mens rea, or "intent to commit a felony therein."
Read every word of the fact pattern. Even the tiny word "then" raises an issue —here, it may be relevant to the question of when the felonious intent was formed, timing being critical to culpability. Look back -- “The Defendant entered the Miller office building to get the umbrella that he had left, then saw the diamond ring, and took it. He then walked out into the rain.” Do you see how we read the facts to identify questions? Are you beginning to see how the issue spotting works?
Next R, the rule or rules. State applicable rules and state them correctly. Next, law students may get credit for mentioning the particular policy or rationale behind those rules. That said, most law professors and bar graders typically do NOT want to see treatises on all the criminal law you know. Rather, they want to read succinct, clear rule statements of those precise rules of law that govern the issue or issue you previously stated.
Now, the A, the “application,” “analysis,” or “argument” -- often the most important part of exam writing. Analysis can also be one of the most fun parts, when you know what you’re doing. It's your chance to argue! It's your opportunity to show that you are thinking, to say why the facts either meet or don't meet the elements of the rules you stated. (Think of a child looking at another child and saying, "PROVE IT!!!")
Often, there are good arguments to be made on both sides. Certain facts may point to the satisfaction of a particular element, while other facts indicate that element is not met. This is good! (Remember, law professors stay up nights dreaming up hypos that fall right on the line in that fuzzy gray just to give you that special opportunity to argue!)
Last is C, or conclusion, the wrap up, where you resolve the issues or questions raised earlier. Note that, especially if the facts are gray, meaning there are good arguments on either side in Step A, the conclusion may be the least critical of the four IRAC steps. A well written answer will develop the most logical argument or arguments, and credit will be given for thoughtfulness and organization rather than for coming to one or another specific conclusion. Note too that your “answer” may not even be a certain one —for example you may conclude, “Based on the foregoing analysis, the defendant will ‘likely’ be found to have possessed the intent to kill the victim here. If however, the prosecution is unable to prove intent to kill, also as noted above, the prosecution may well be able to demonstrate the defendant possessed the intent to cause serious bodily harm or at the very least that his actions showed a reckless indifference to human life...."
You may have both a brief conclusion for each issue that you IRAC, as well as a final conclusion at the end of the exam which answers the call of the question. (For example, “Based on the foregoing analysis and discussion, Defendant Dan will likely be guilty of both the murder of Vickie and the burglary of Vickie and Tom’s house.”). On bar examination questions in particular, such a final summary conclusion, even if only one sentence, is important as well because it signals the grader that the applicant has completed the question.
Are you beginning to see how logical IRAC is, what it is? Is it Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion ---or are you now convinced that it's, Yes, I really am crazy!
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