Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moving writing from mechanical to the fluid

One of the great books on law school exam prep has one piece of terrible advice: don't use IRAC. The bottom line is that ALL law school professors expect law school exam answers that are organized, easy to read, and logical. It may be called CRAC, IRAC, TRAC, or TICRA-FLIPC; the name of the organizational system doesn't matter. A law school exam needs an organized answer. The problem is that many law professors don't understand IRAC is just an organizational system, and that students need to have an organizational system before they can move to the fluid, responsive (and organized!) answers that get A's. Just like most people learn how to drive an automatic before moving to a stick shift (and they generally stall the car quite a few times before they are fluid with a stick), law students need to start with a simple organizational system before they can move to the move to more advanced writing styles.

Here are some rules of thumb I use with students who are just starting to write practice exams:

1) Issue: It's the problem you need to solve. Your issue should tell the reader (your professor) what legal problem you found in that facts. Your issue should be narrow enough to be answerable; a too-broad issue statement means you have too many questions to answer in the time allotted.

2) Rule:  What legal rule is implicated in the hypothetical facts?

3) Analysis: An element of law/case + relevant hypothetical facts in EVERY sentence. I use this formula because students just starting to write practice exams tend to restate too many hypo facts, restate entire case holdings, or they do the opposite, and only include too little law or too few facts. Another problem is parallel structure; students write a sentence about the law, and a sentence about the hypothetical facts, but do not make the connection between them. By telling students they need law and facts in every sentence, it moves them away from common mistakes in analysis. THEN I move on to more advanced analysis, but only after they have mastered the basic structure of analysis.

4) Conclusion: It doesn't matter how you conclude, but you need a conclusion that is the logical extension of your analysis. Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis, where all possible options seem equally plausible, so you leave the reader hanging.

Lamborghini's are amazing cars. However, no one learns how to drive on a Lamborghini; the sports stick is so stiff that a new driver would give up before learning how to drive. An automatic Honda Civic is the way to go when learning how to drive. And like learning to drive, learning to write an organized law school exam takes time and practice. It's better to start mechanical and move to advanced, even if the advanced writing skills are ultimately what we want from our students. (RCF)

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