Only a few pointers are needed to have you writing like a lawyer
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
One of the keys to success as a law student is mastering the IRAC style of writing. Here are some helpful hints to improve your legal writing.
In order to succeed in legal research and writing, you need to master the writing format that the legal world has come to expect. Whether you write a memo or a brief, some form of the IRAC format will be used, no matter where you work or study.
Though the nuances of the format will vary by law firm and law school, this guide is meant to assist undergrads and law students with a few helpful hints to further mastering the style.
What does the IRAC stand for?
The IRAC methodology represents the following concepts of a legal problem:
I: The issue or legal matter at hand. R: The rule or expected legal outcome. A: The analysis or explanation of the relevant laws and case law. (Sometimes the “A” is referred to as the “answer,” but the content remains the same.) C: The conclusion or summary of your legal analysis.
Though a large majority of law schools and law firms use the IRAC, some practices will call the format either CRAC or CREAC. The “C” typically refers to the conclusion and “E” refers to the explanation. Regardless, the main elements will remain the same.
Enjuris tip: Whenever you start a legal internship, ask to see some sample legal documents in order to see the writing style the firm uses.
Just the facts, ma’am...
Though there is no “F” in IRAC, the facts section is instrumental to all IRACs. If you’re writing a memo or brief, you’ll need to summarize the most important facts of the case. This is often difficult for students as “issue spotting” and other legal analyses often take some time to master. Many students write too much, while just as many write too little.
Here are some brief pointers to keep in mind:
Remember the “5 W’s and an H” from elementary school? Those elements are still relevant in legal writing. You need a who, what, where, when, why and how in your factual analysis in order to present as full a picture as possible.
If it’s not a clarifying detail, it’s probably safe to leave out.
Make sure all the facts you plan to mention are in this section. Too often, students will introduce a new fact in the conclusion or analysis, which is a legal writing blunder.
Keep your paragraphs short. Too much content in one paragraph is often too difficult for a busy lawyer or judge to read.
You can write the facts section first, but always go back and re-read your facts after you’ve completed your analysis to make sure you address the most important points.
Tackling the legal issue
The issue is arguably the most important aspect of a legal document as it summarizes the legal question at hand. Often referred to as the “issue statement,” the issue is written as a question and needs to address the main aspects of a legal problem. Never use specifics such as names in an issue statement, as this section is meant to ask a general legal question.
The easiest way to write the issue is to compose the question after you’re written every other part of the IRAC. The issue is more or less a restatement of the conclusion, written in question form.
Writing a perfectly formatted issue is tricky, but while you’re learning, the best style is:
Under ___________ law, ________________ when _________?
The “under” portion is the easiest as you’re merely stating the location. The next blank of the question refers to the crime or liability, and the final blank refers to the specific case at hand. Below are some example issue statements:
Under Maryland law, is a landlord negligent when he hasn’t replaced a broken fence for over 6 months and a wild animal came onto the property?
Under Georgia law, can a person be convicted for breaking and entering if she was attempting to make an emergency phone call when she broke into her neighbor’s apartment?
Under Colorado law, is a doctor liable for damages when the intern under her supervision had consensual sexual relations with her patient?
As you can tell by the above examples, your issue question needs to be able to have a “yes” or “no” answer.
The rule section is where you provide a shortened answer to your issue statement. Some law firms and law schools will expand this section, but these helpful hints should help you no matter what format your boss or employer suggests:
Though this may vary, generally speaking, you write the rule in the same neutral tone as the issue in terms of not providing party names or other proper nouns.
The rule should never be more than a few sentences. This isn’t where you explain the law. Instead, you provide a legal outcome.
In instances where several laws are applicable, you may need to have several rule statements. If that’s the case, it’s permissible to write more than one legal issue. Be sure your number of issues matches your number of rules.
Even if the statutes or case law is unclear or may not be fully applicable to your case, write your rule in a definitive tone. The analysis and conclusion are where you can explain the deficiencies.
The rule may seem like a run-on sentence. That’s ok. This is one of the many examples where typical grammatical rules don’t apply to legal writing.
Sample rules include:
Yes, a Maryland landlord is considered negligent for neglecting repairs to a fence when there was actual and constructive notice that the damage was large enough for an intruder or animal to pass through and cause harm.
No, a person facing an imminent threat of harm to herself and her loved ones cannot be considered guilty of breaking and entering when trying to escape danger and contact law enforcement.
No. In Colorado, a doctor is not responsible for preventing the consensual relations of her intern with a patient if the relationship was unknown to the doctor and took place outside of the hospital.
Writing the answer/analysis
The answer or analysis section is the most difficult portion of the IRAC in terms of providing helpful hints. Each case can have drastically different circumstances and your firm or law school may have specific grammatical and style rules that you need to follow.
Nevertheless, below are some generalized pointers that should help, no matter what additional style rules or analysis you need to apply:
Most importantly, pick your supporting statutes and case law from the same geographic location as your client’s case. Only law from the same federal or state court is “mandatory” for the presiding judge to follow. Other locations’ rules are considered “persuasive” authority.
As a rule, criminal law cases will need a reference to a statute. Many civil law cases, especially personal injury cases, may not have an appropriate statute.
Both criminal cases and civil cases should have at least two sources of case law on your topic.
Citations matter so be sure to adhere to proper Bluebook or ALWD format.
Complex cases or cases with more than one issue should have subheadings for each individual legal topic or section.
When you’re comparing cases, use some form of analogy structure. For example:
Like the defendant in Hayes who used a knife to enter the store, our client picked open the lock with a pocket knife.
Unlike the landlord in Cogswell who knew of the mold growth for several weeks, the landlord in this case was only notified of mold when Mrs. Smith went to the hospital.
Concluding your IRAC
Like a scientific conclusion, the conclusion of an IRAC is a summary of your legal findings. Your conclusion shouldn’t be longer than a paragraph, yet it should address the legal question and offer a legal ruling. In a memo, you’ll also address questions such as whether or not the firm should accept a case.
Though no two conclusions will ever be the same, here’s a sample to give you the proper format:
In Texas, a landlord will be considered negligent if he or she had actual or constructive notice of mold, yet failed to take appropriate action to correct the problem. Mrs. Smith never informed Mr. Apple of the mold nor did Mr. Apple have any reason to come and inspect her apartment. As a result, it’s unlikely that Mrs. Smith will be able to recover damages from Mr. Apple, and we should decline the case.