Madaleine Gray, a recent graduate of Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee, discusses her best advice for improving legal writing skills...
Students entering their first year of law school are frequently shocked by the feedback they receive on the first assignment they turn in for their introductory Legal Writing course. Often, these students come from a background in journalism, are former English or history majors, and have generally received better than average grades in their writing courses in the past. Many come to law school with the belief that they have adequate, if not strong, writing skills, and that legal writing will probably be one of their easier courses on their schedule. What they quickly learn is that while legal writing may share similarities with other writing styles, it is definitely a beast of its own that students must take time to master.
Law students are asked to not only master a new style of writing for assignments to submit as part of their legal writing coursework, but they are also required to use new legal writing skills in exams. Particularly, the beloved “IRAC” format to complete structured essays in timed exams. The “IRAC” essay structure includes an issue statement, rule statement, analysis section, and a conclusion. While the abbreviation for the required portions of the essay is short, the learning curve on mastering each section can be an arduous and time-consuming process.
The use of the “IRAC” writing style doesn’t just stop with legal writing courses and law school exams, either. The skills you’re expected to fine-tune using this process are going to be implemented in most of your legal writing going forward into the profession. Most motions, briefs, and memorandums are dependent on your ability to state the relevant rule of law, apply the facts to the rule of law, and draw a conclusion about your analysis of the facts.
In most circumstances, students often mismanage their time, spending valuable time writing lengthy rule statements and missing the opportunity to complete an in-depth analysis of the rule to the relevant facts in the fact pattern provided. Unfortunately, the analysis portion of an essay is worth a significant number of points, and failing to adequately complete it leaves critical points on the table.
With the current uncertainty surrounding the California Bar Exam, as well as other state examinations, exam takers face even more anxiety than ever before about preparing for the exam. Particularly, many bar exam applicants were a significant way through their bar prep courses before exam dates were pushed due to COVID-19. With a large portion of the bar prep courses already complete, test takers have raised concerns over running out of fresh material to study. In addition, no programs offer an option to simulate an essay exam. The chance to practice a real online bar exam is lacking.
This poses a problem because, just as with almost every other skill, legal writing takes practice to perfect. While there are a lot of sample questions out there with convoluted and extravagant answers, these do little but make students feel overwhelmed and underprepared. Sticking to one or two supplementary resources can help tailor studying and avoid wasted time on learning to navigate various tools. For example, Bar Essay Prep provides a modernized solution to studying for the bar exam. In just a few steps, you can download Bar Essay Prep and gain access to hundreds of different fact patterns. Through the use of supplementary study programs, users are exposed to a variety of different fact patterns at random that are delivered through a simple user interface that mimics the way that law school exams and bar exams are typically administered. For students interested in strengthening their legal writing skills and getting used to performing “IRAC” essays under strict time constraints, Bar Essay Prep is the perfect learning tool.
The numerous variety of fact patterns available, the benefit of having “IRAC” guidelines accessible while drafting the practice essays, and the imposed time limits give students access to tools that will help them strengthen their legal writing in a manageable, rather than overwhelming, manner. Using modernized legal writing applications better equips students with skills that will have both short-term and long-term benefits; helping them master essay questions on exams and finetune the art of legal analysis for motions and memorandums in future internships and jobs.
JURIST carries extended coverage of Bars Exams in the Pandemic. See also the JURIST Editorial Board’s July 9 statement on diploma privilege entitled The Diploma Privilege Manifesto.
Madaleine Gray is a recent graduate of Belmont University College of Law and pursuing a Master’s in Applied Intelligence at Georgetown University. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Madaleine moved to Nashville for her freshman year of college and has stayed ever since. During her time in Nashville, Madaleine interned for the public defender’s office, some smaller firms and a solo practitioner, the District Attorney’s office, the State of Tennessee Attorney General’s office, and the Honorable Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton. She also consistently worked with various law firms and solo practitioners as a legal blogger. Madaleine was Managing Editor of the Belmont Criminal Law Journal, with two publications. Currently, she is employed as a judicial law clerk and studying for the October Bar Exam.
Suggested citation: Madaleine Gray, Examining Essay Writing: Tech Tips and Tricks for Essay Exams, JURIST – Student Commentary, August 12, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/08/madaleine-gray-legal-writing/.
This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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