Monday, December 12, 2011

Teaching Bar Takers the Importance of Accurate and Complete Rule Statements

A guest post from Ron Dees, of Washburn Law School:

A tool for teaching bar takers the importance and value of accurate and complete rule statements: 

As you all know, many times students fail to memorize and/or transcribe accurate and complete rule statements into their exam essays.  This almost always leads to incomplete analysis due to missed issues and missed opportunities to discuss facts relevant to those issues. It can also lead to incorrect conclusions. Incomplete analysis and incorrect inclusions in turn lead to lower overall scores on exams.  This is an issue that is relevant throughout law school, but is even more important on the bar exam because bar exams are rule based exams.  That is to say that legal theory and policy are not heavily tested.  What is tested on bar exams is the examinee’s ability to reach a well-reasoned conclusion by applying the rules of law to hypothetical fact situations.

Even after three years of law school, some bar takers simply don’t seem to realize the importance and usefulness of rule statements.  They sometimes seem to think of rule statements as nothing more than a technicality to be placed at the “Rule” place marker section in their IRAC or CIRAC format. Thus, it is often necessary to show them the importance of using accurate and complete rule statements. Doing so will help the student do a more complete analysis, and the student will begin to realize the added value of rule statements when shown how using rule statements as outlines for analysis makes formatting and writing essays easier. That in turn can help lower exam stress levels, because the student will feel confident that the rule they memorized during study can be used to easily format essays on exam day.

A simple table can be used as a tool for teaching the importance of accurate and complete rule statements. As the table below shows, breaking down the rule statement into its individual parts or elements allows the student to quickly form an outline for the analysis portion of their essay before they begin writing.  This outline allows them two advantages.  First, their writing will be well organized and secondly the outline serves as a checklist of items that should be discussed in the analysis.  If the rule statement is accurate and complete, the checklist will be accurate and complete, and the likelihood of missing necessary parts of the analysis is lower. If the rule statement is incomplete, the analysis may still be well organized, but vital parts of the analysis may be missing, which will cost the student potential points.

The rule for “piercing the corporate veil” is used here in IRAC format as an example:

Student A

Student B

Essay Roadmap using complete rule statement

Essay Roadmap using incomplete rule statement

Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?

 

Rule:  The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored and injustice results; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized at the time of formation; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.

 

Analysis:

(1)Were corporate formalities ignored?

(2) If so, did injustice result from the lack of formalities?

(3) Was the corporation undercapitalized?

(4) If so, was it undercapitalized at the time of formation?; or

(5) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?

 

Conclusion: The corporate veil may not be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders

Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?

 

Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.

 

 

Analysis:

(1) Were corporate formalities ignored?

(2) Was the corporation undercapitalized; or

(3) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: The corporate veil may be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders.

 

Student A uses the complete rule as an outline, and we can see that a complete analysis will discuss the existence or non-existence of facts relating to five issues. Student B uses an incomplete rule statement, and thus is missing two sections of analysis that should potentially be included in the analysis. The missing analysis sections result directly from the missing portions of the incomplete rule statement.  This represents a lost opportunity to earn points on the essay.  The potential points for discussing resulting injustice and capitalization at the time of formation will likely be lost because the student failed to use a complete rule statement as an outline for their analysis.

Furthermore, Student B may reach an incorrect conclusion on the issues discussed due to the same shortcoming. As an example, the hypothetical may contain a fact stating that the corporation has recently become undercapitalized. Student B may thus incorrectly conclude that the veil may be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization, because the incomplete rule statement does not contain the associated requirement of “at the time of formation.” Student A will be able to use checklist issue number four to cause her to recognize that the undercapitalization came about at a later time in the corporation’s existence and that timing must be considered.  Thus, the undercapitalization in the given hypothetical does not fulfill the requirement of “at the time of formation.” Therefore, Student A will correctly conclude that the veil may not be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization.

An example such as this is often helpful in teaching students the importance of using precise and complete rule statements. First, it highlights how the rule statement can be used to provide a roadmap to success in the form of a complete outline for essay answers. Secondly, it highlights how the resulting outline can aid the student in formulating a complete analysis and reaching accurate conclusions.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2011/12/teaching-bar-takers-the-importance-and-value-of-accurate-and-complete-rule-statements.html

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