Stupid Simple IRAC

Everyone says “just IRAC” when it comes to writing essays on the bar exam.

That drives me crazy too. I’ve heard that since I was a 1L. And it kinda makes sense until you ACTUALLY TRY TO DO IT.

It’s supposed to be one of the most basic skills in law school (and on the bar exam), but it’s frustrating when you have no idea what you’re writing.

Coming up with things to write is hard! Know the pain of creation. But you don’t have to suffer.

Let’s break down “IRAC” so it finally becomes simple and the least of your concerns. We’re going for the win!

Issue

First of all, on the bar exam, issues are king. Stop trying to look cool with a huge analysis and end up tripping all over yourself.

Issues are really simple. You just state the issue:

Battery

Don’t forget to do the same for sub-issues. This is based on one of the rule elements of battery under tort law:

Harmful or offensive contact

That’s it! Easy, right?

This is going to be the anchor for the ship you’re going to ride to fish points out of the water. Help the graders see these street signs, and they’ll have an easier time giving you points.

Cool, time to move onto—

Wait, how do you even identify the right issues? Great question! I’m glad you asked because everyone else is too chicken to ask how to “issue spot” exactly.

While issues are simple to write, they are NOT always easy to figure out, and they have the MOST impact on your essay’s score.

This gets brushed over so much in law school and bar prep that I’ve devoted an entire technique called issue checking (this probably saved my ass on my second attempt at the bar exam).

Issue spotting” has no process to it, and therefore is a less reliable method of getting the points you deserve on the essays. I recommend checking for issues instead of spotting issues.

Even looking at the phrase “issue spotting” grosses me out. Just throw it back where it came from and all its clothes and say, “Don’t you ever come back here!”

Rule

Everyone loves this one because it’s the thing they have to memorize. You also have to memorize the issues btw.

Fine, let’s just plug in the rules:

Battery

D is liable for battery if he voluntarily acted to bring about harmful or offensive contact with P’s person, intended such contact with P’s person, and caused such contact. P’s person is P himself or something closely connected to P.

Harmful or offensive contact

Battery requires harmful or offensive contact with P’s person, where P’s person includes P himself or something closely connected to P. There must be a direct physical contact that would be offensive to a reasonable person.

You’re stating principles or major premises that your argument will be based on.

Three things to remember:

  1. Don’t commingle rules and analyses. Keep them separate (common mistake in essays by coaching clients)!
  2. Include sub-rules for sub-issues (see above).
  3. Beautiful rule statements alone won’t get you far. Don’t obsess over them over other components of IRAC, particularly issues.

Application (Analysis)

Now you’re applying the rule you laid out to the facts.

I prefer to call this “application” instead of “analysis.” Leave the deep analysis for law school. Bar essays are more straightforward. Take relevant facts from the hypo and connect them to the rules:

  1. Best to use a transitional word such as “Here” or “In this case.”
  2. Show your work! Like solving an algebra problem, take it step by step. It helps to think “why” and use the word “because” to connect facts to law. Don’t be afraid to “plagiarize” facts from the hypo. You can also make reasonable common-sense logical steps.
  3. Do not introduce new rules. State all the principles you’re relying on before you apply them (in other words, don’t commingle rules and analyses).
Here, D and P were facing off in a confrontation. D then drew smoke and blew it directly on P’s face. The smoke was contact with P’s person because an extension of P’s person made direct physical contact with P. It was offensive and harmful because a reasonable person would be aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke and take great offense at such smoke being blown in his face, especially during an aggressive, confrontational situation.

Another, more straightforward example that hits each portion of the rule we cited above in order:

(harmful or offensive contact with P’s person, P’s person includes P himself or something closely connected to P, direct physical contact that would be offensive to a reasonable person)

Here, there is offensive and harmful contact with P’s person because smoke was blown into P’s face. P’s face is included as part of P himself because a face is part of the person. There is direct physical contact that would be offensive to a reasonable person because [insert reasonable inference].

(Bold parts are just to draw your attention. Don’t actually bold these words on the exam.)

Note that you’re explaining obvious things. This is part of showing your work. While these might look like exaggerated examples, what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else.

An alien dropping by this planet should understand your reasoning. That said, be sufficient, not extra.

Should you use ping-pong counterarguments?

“P will argue A… D will argue B… No, but actually D’s position is weak because it’s a strawman argument I pulled out of my ass under time pressure and I don’t know why I said it, so yeah, P will argue A, final answer…”

Who cares dude. Just pick a position and argue for it.

You don’t need to make counterarguments as a default. Make a case for the “correct” conclusion. What’s YOUR take on the issue?

Counterarguments can and should be made in the form of legal arguments, not factual interpretations:

  1. You’re arguing opposing legal theories (e.g., defenses and exceptions). Defenses and exceptions are extra issues you’ll get points for. If you’re dying to use the facts in favor of the opposing party and can’t keep it in your pants, here’s your chance.
  2. Similar to (1), the rule calls for split views (e.g., Cardozo and Andrews).

You have room to make more detailed factual arguments when:

  1. The call of the question is narrow (“Did the court rule correctly on motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction?”) vs. broad (“What may D be guilty of?”).
  2. The facts are vague.

So you could hedge and drown your essay in ping-pong arguments if you want… Or you could keep it stupid simple.

(Unless, of course, you’re writing an objective memo on the performance test. Analyze both sides there.)

Conclusion

Make a conclusion based on the argument you just made. You likely know the conclusion already as you’re setting up your issues and rules.

For the “harmful or offensive contact” sub-issue:

Thus, D made harmful or offensive contact because smoke in P’s face was offensive and harmful to a reasonable person.

For the “battery” issue:

Therefore, D is liable for battery because, with the smoke, he intended and caused contact that is harmful or offensive to a reasonable person.

OR

Therefore, D is not liable for battery because [elements not met or defense negates prima facie case].

(Bold parts are just to draw your attention. Don’t actually bold these words on the exam.)

I like to recommend optionally writing a brief summary of your argument, the part that begins with “because” above. You COULD stop at “D committed battery,” but it’s always good to give reasons if you can. It neatly ties up the IRAC unit.

Writing like a bar taker

You can see that the basic IRAC structure is actually rather mechanical and formulaic. In order of importance:

  1. Identify the issue or sub-issue
  2. State the rule(s) you need to resolve the issue
  3. Apply the rule to the facts
  4. Conclude

This isn’t a creative writing class. This is a closed-universe exercise. Don’t let your prior life experience get in the way.

If you want to see what it looks like all put together, there are examples with annotations in the “IRAC/CRAC Example Vault” in Passer’s Playbook 2.0.
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