How to Apply Rules with IRAC

Essays: Get the “I” and “R” right, and the rest should flow relatively naturally. So these “I” and “R” would be good place to focus on throughout your essay preparation.

Even if you had just a few weeks to prepare for the bar, there’s still time to learn the “A” part of IRAC—applying the rules. Once you learn how to work facts into your answer, you may not need to practice the “A” part as repetitively as you would for issue checking and rule recitation or memorization.

I’ll demonstrate a simple and clean rule application, based on this question I got:


Hi Brian,

Thanks for the response.  To be honest, I have no clue what happened with the PTs.  I know they gave us 3 issues on the first PT, but did you try to find any sub-issues?  For the last PT, I just had 3 headings, 1 for whether each piece of evidence was admissible.  I would love to know your thought process as you do PTs.

Also, I’m starting to wonder if the formatting of my answers is the main problem.  After re-reading the TLS posts, it sounds like most people had success following the same IRAC formula. This was my basic structure:

(para 1) Battery

(para 2) Battery includes the elements of (i) intent, (ii) harmful or offensive touching, (iii) causation.

(para 3) (i) intent
Here, blah blah blah (facts from question).

Therefore, this element is satisfied.

(para 4) (ii) harmful or offensive touching
Here, blah blah blah.

Therefore, this element is satisfied.

(para 5) (iii) causation
Here, blah blah blah.

Therefore, this element is satisfied.

(para 6) Thus, D committed battery

Do you see anything wrong with this?  I didn’t use “because”, so I’m wondering if I wasn’t credited with any analysis.  Thanks for your help!

Great question. What is IRAC exactly?

IRAC, deductive syllogism, whatever you want to call it—it is the linchpin of all your written responses. S.N. had basic IRAC structure where all the right parts appear to plug and play:

  • I: He stated the issue (battery)
  • R: He recited the applicable rule (but would be better if each element were expanded on)
  • A: He applied the rule in a separate paragraph with the introductory word “Here, . . . ” (make it clear and don’t combine rule and application!)
  • C: He concluded for each element as well as the issue

In some states, the convention may be slightly different (e.g., CRAC, CIRAC), but the argumentative structure is the same.

I won’t get into everything in my response to him, but let’s talk about application and conclusion, especially in regard to the part I bolded above.

A: Applying the recited rules

In 7th grade, my pre-algebra teacher, Mr. Doerr, told us to show our work. What does that mean?! Middle school is hardcore, man! I want to go back to recess!

In the beginning, I literally drew arrows all over my graphing paper to show what went where. Then I learned to follow certain conventions: Simplify the expression step by step, line by line. Box the answer.

Ideal rule application is not just a scattered potpourri of facts. S.N. omitted the word “because,” but this word is indeed an excellent way to show that you can logically connect the facts to the conclusion.

Let’s check out element (ii) as an example. I’m gonna make up some facts in the below example, but assume I’m taking them from a hypothetical hypo (please don’t mention Inception):

ii. Harmful or offensive contact [Issue / in some states (MEE), conclusion first]

[Relevant rule statement(s) — present separately!]

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. [Key words in red and underlined]

Thus, D made harmful or offensive contact because smoke in P’s face was offensive and harmful to a reasonable person. [Specify the element. Don’t just say that “this element is met” and blow it off. Also good to conclude by summarizing the analysis in 1-2 sentences.]

What did I do? First, you needed to have established the relevant rule(s) earlier. One common mistake in IRAC/CRAC to commingle the rule and the application of the rule. The rule need only be stated once.

It’s like a sushi boat: Apply the fish to the rice ball. Line up the sushi and present the plate. A series of IRACs. No jumbled-up poke bowls allowed!

But without facts, rules have nothing to be applied to. I stated the relevant facts, then bridged those facts to the elements of the relevant rule using the word “because.” Using “because” is a simple way to convince the grader that you see the connection between the facts presented and the rules. In fact, research shows that using the word “because” is ~50% more persuasive by its own merit than without the word.

What are relevant facts? They trigger the issue (more specifically, the rule associated with the issue) that you’re talking about in the first place. Hmmm…interesting.

Let’s look at another type of A—mini IRACs.

What if you’re facing a more meaty topic, like negligence? That’s always a beast with a multi-part analysis with all sorts of nuances. You don’t want to cram all your discussion of duty, breach, causation and damages in one application paragraph!

Instead, break the parent issue (negligence) down to its elements. IRAC can actually have mini IRACs embedded. If you combine all four elements in one giant paragraph, your answer will most certainly turn into a wall of text that your grader won’t read (and thus, won’t award many points for).

Your answer could look like this:

[Your overarching rule statement that explains the elements]
[Your duty rule]
Here, [your fact application].
Thus, [your conclusion about duty]
Same format as above. Be formulaic.
Same format as above. Be formulaic.
Same format as above. Be formulaic.
[OVERALL CONCLUSION] Therefore, D was negligent [or not negligent] in [doing XYZ], because [recap your argument in 1-2 sentences]

Put another way, the format is I-R-irac-irac-irac-irac-C.

C: Concluding

To finish the discussion of battery, the last concluding statement could be 1-2 sentences, something like:

Therefore, D committed battery because D intended harmful and offensive contact by [short summary of facts].

In the conclusion, you could stop at “D committed battery,” although it’s helpful to you and the grader to recap your reasons. However, in the main application, do keep asking, “Why? Why? Why?” and show your work!

Incidentally, in a PT, you have a lot of facts to draw from. Your job is to corral them all into a nicely reasoned, organized package. Perhaps this is why I like to first have the rules in the library down so that I can catch facts that related to the rules I just pulled out. I go over this in the PT guide (you can get your own free copy by signing up via the form to the right).

Ping-pong arguments?

Notice there’s no ping-pong argument. You don’t need this anymore.

You are ultimately supposed to take a stand (the C part of IRAC), and the bulk of your application should just be straight-up taking your rule, applying it over the facts like butter, having a taste, then making conclusions. There should be a “right” answer, like in the MBE. It also saves you time by not arguing for the other side.

Put another way, IRAC on bar essays (but not all PTs) is not necessarily the same as IRAC in law school.

Why? The A here is more like “application” whereas the A in law school is more like “analysis” (where you do want to analyze different angles and show the prof you know how to make an objective argument).

(Does this mean…? Yes! When your PT asks you to provide an objective memo (to a lesser degree for a persuasive memo), you should ping pong often.)

In general, you should use your precious seconds to pull out more facts to make a stronger argument for the “right” side. This is application of bar law, not law-school analysis. Then come to a solid conclusion. Repeat. That’s it.

However, do go for the ping pong if there is a valid argument for the other side that calls out to you, or if you’re comfortable with time and are dealing with some vague rule on ambiguous facts. Even then, try to make them discrete arguments. “Assuming [fact interpretation X]….” “Assuming [fact interpretation Y]….” Then make arguments for each interpretation. You don’t have to annoy the graders with, “On the other hand….” Don’t lead them on saying one thing then basically changing your mind.

IRACing is like speed dating where you will never see each other again. Just let them check out what you have to offer and get it over with already!

Once you learn how to pull and arrange the relevant facts and then use the magic word “because” to apply the relevant elements to those facts, you will remember how to do it for the rest of the bar season. Once you know how to IRAC for a subject, use the rest of your study time to practice identifying issues and reciting rules, such as by using the essay cooking technique.

To recap: Show your work when you apply the law to the facts. Use “because” to connect relevant rule elements with relevant facts.

Now I want to ask you: What are some difficult application situations you’ve encountered? Do you have any other tips on application? Drop a comment below.

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2 Replies to “How to Apply Rules with IRAC”

  1. Hi, I am taking the Indiana bar exam in Feb. I just started reading some of your blogs and I really like your insight. My question is, would advice such as the advice in this blog apply to me as well (being in IN and not CA)? Thanks.

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Yes, the concepts apply outside CA as well. I assume IN does not prefer some argument format other than IRAC (basically… major premise (rule) + minor premise (facts) + logical conclusion).

      The concepts I discuss elsewhere also apply generally, and I try to make remarks on CA-only distinctions where I can. Thanks for reading!


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