Thursday, May 18, 2023

MPT Advice Part 3: the rule statement in four parts

This is part 3 in a series of posts with MPT advice. Last week, you learned how to make your MPT to-do list, and to flip the assigned legal issues into questions to help you do a careful reading of the Library. Today we will talk about the rule statement in four parts. After reading hundreds of student MPTs, and leaving mountains feedback on students’ analysis, I finally realized that if you don’t set up your rule clearly and correctly, it is nearly impossible to write good analysis. On the other hand, if you set up the rule correctly, the analysis almost writes itself.


Rule statement in four parts

Not every legal issue on every MPT will follow this exact structure, because not every legal issue has all these components in the Library. Some won’t have or need an explanation sentence, some don’t have an authority case. But as you read the Library, for each assigned legal issue, you should be on the lookout for each of these components, and include them in your answer when you can. Items 1 and 2 go in the first paragraph together; items 3 and 4 go in the second paragraph together.

  1. When sentence
  2. Explanation sentence
  3. Authority case: facts
  4. Authority case: holding and rationale


1. When sentence:


“Courts hold ___________ when ____________.” Citation. Or

“Under Franklin Revised Statutes, a person is liable for noise nuisance when_______________.” FRS sec. 123(a)(4).


I call this the “when sentence” because you can almost always make a clear statement about the law using a sentence that contains the word “when.” To practice writing the overall rule on a legal issue using this when format, go through your old outlines and write a few when sentences. For example,

“Courts will order specific performance when_______”

“A person commits robbery when_______”

“Courts may exclude relevant evidence when________”

Of course you don’t need to bring this outside knowledge of specific law into the MPT; I suggest this exercise just to help you cement the structure.


2. Explanation sentence:

Almost every time you use a “when sentence,” you will need to give an explanation sentence, possibly even two or three. The explanation sentence(s) might be language from a case that defines a term used in your when sentence, or it might be a limit on the application of the when sentence, or similar. Your when sentence and explanation sentence(s) should all be in the same paragraph together, immediately following your substantive issue heading. Make sure you give a citation after each sentence.


3. Authority case: facts, and 4. Authority case: holding and rationale

Now, start a new paragraph for the last two parts of your rule statement in four parts”

3. Authority case facts: “In Casename [brief summary of the case: who are the parties, who sued whom, what is the dispute].” Id.

4. Authority case holding and rationale: “The court held [holding as to the legal issue] because [rationale].” Id.

Many, but not all, legal issues on the MPT will call for use of an authority case. That is, many legal issues on the MPT call out for you to give the facts, holding, and rationale from a case included in the MPT Library, because it has facts similar to your case’s facts. The facts, holding, and rationale for this authority case will be the second paragraph under your substantive heading.


Give the facts of the case (who sued whom and why) in a sentence or two. Don’t get carried away here. Many students are tempted to say way too much here, but all you need to do is tell the reader who sued whom and why; that is, how did this particular legal issue end up in front of the court?


Then, state what the court held as to the legal issue, and give the court’s rationale. This is a great place to do a self assessment: if you don’t have a sentence in this paragraph that goes something like, “The court held . . . because . . . . ” that is a sign that you are leaving out a necessary part of the discussion.


Pitfalls to avoid:

Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short. Group the when sentence and the explanation sentence(s) into one paragraph. Hit return, and group the authority case facts, holding, and rationale into another paragraph. Avoid the temptation to make these four components into one long paragraph.


This authority case paragraph should be short: only a sentence or two to understand who sued whom and why, and maybe three or four sentences to tell what the court held, and to identify the facts that the decision turned on. For a lot of people, the temptation is strong to give a lot of facts, and a lot of procedural history, and then to completely skip the holding and rationale. Train yourself that any time you give the facts of a case, you must have a sentence that begins “The court held . . . . ”



(Lisa DeLaTorre)

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