How to Effectively Answer Law Essay Questions

I remember my first semester 100 level exams. I was just fresh from secondary school/JAMBITE, but I thought law exams were the same with secondary school exams. Heck, I didn’t even know that law exams were only theory questions. I was expecting to meet some objective questions, until I saw my exam questions.

Well, during the exams, I wrote what I could, and was confident my results would be awesome. After all, I had read for the exams well enough, and I used to think I was kind of intelligent.

I was in for a rude shock.

While I was in 100 level at the University of Ilorin, they still pasted everyone’s results on the notice board. So, when I heard the first result was out, I and a lot of my “fresher” colleagues went to check our results. I was expecting an A, or worse, a B.

I located my matric number on the pasted list and checked my first result. I had a C.

I was surprised, but I felt it was my first result, the others would be better.

The other results started trickling in. With each result pasted on the notice board, I realised I wasn’t so special after all. I had a series of C’s. For my 100 level first  semester results, out a total of 10 courses, I had just one A, two B’s and the rest were C’s.

I was dejected, along with most other “freshers” that received this glorious welcome to Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin.

Instead of blaming the poor results on the indiscretions of my lecturers, I knew something had to be wrong with what I wrote. So, I asked for help. I asked a scholar(the best student in a level) in 400 level at the time, Adekunle Charles , to show me how to answer law questions. He showed me the way, and I can tell you that my results improved dramatically.

So, I am going to teach you exactly what he taught me, how to answer law exam questions. I will be focusing on law essay questions in this post.

What are Law Essay Questions?

There are two major types of law questions, essay questions and problem questions. Law essay questions require you to write an essay. Unlike problem questions that require you to advise parties in a scenario.

We have all been answering a level of essay questions right from secondary school, so it shouldn’t be new to you.

The following is an example of a law essay question:

There have been a lot of arguments for and against the principle established in the popular case of Adams vs Lindsell . Expatiate, through the cases.

To answer law essay questions properly, it must follow four rules. It must have The Introduction, The definitions, the body, and the conclusion.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 1: The Introduction

The introduction to your law essay question is the part where you let the lecturer know what the answer is all about.

In this part of the question, you shouldn’t directly go into answering the question. Instead, you are allowed to beat about the bush a little bit. Start with a general statement and then become more specific. At the end of the introduction, you should talk about the law essay question you intend to answer.

As an illustration, this is how the introduction to the sample law essay question above should look like:

The importance of feedback in the formation of a contract cannot be over-emphasized. It is trite that every contract needs to have an offer and acceptance, and there is the need to communicate the offer and acceptance between the parties. In a lot of instances, this isn’t really a problem since the offer and acceptance is done in real-time (face to face). However, there are instances where it isn’t in real time, like when the communication is done by post. In this type of situation, due to the process of posting a letter or parcel, the communication between the parties can experience some delays. This has posed some problems, like “when is an acceptance valid?” Upon posting, or upon reception? One principle that has been developed by the courts to solve this problem is the rule in Adams vs Lindsell . This work is going to analyse this rule and talk about the criticisms levelled against it, with special attention being paid to case law.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 2: The Definition

This is the part of the question where you give a definition to the major terms/keywords in the question. It is not necessary that it has to be a “term” per se. For instance, in the sample question I gave above, the major term is Adams vs Lindsell .

So, what you should do at this stage is to define the rule in Adams vs Lindsell . Since this is a case, you should talk about the facts of the case.

Your answer can go something like this:

The rule in Adams vs Lindsell is generally referred to as acceptance by post. The rule in  this case was propounded by Lord Ellensborough in 1818. In this case, the defendant offered to sell some wool to the plaintiff. The defendant sent their offer by post. Due to an error in the posting, the letter got to the plaintiff on the evening of September 5. The plaintiff posted an acceptance the next day. If the letter was posted correctly, the defendant ought to have gotten the reply by September 7. So, when the defendant didn’t get a reply on September 7, he sold the wool to a third party on September 8. The plaintiff’s acceptance finally got to the defendant on September 9. Since the defendant had already sold the wool to a third party, the plaintiff sued for breach of contract. The major contention was when the acceptance would be valid. On the plaintiff posting it, or on the defendant receiving it. The court held in favor of the plaintiff that when it comes to contracts conducted by post, acceptance comes to fruition at the time of posting, not at the time of receiving.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 3: The Body

This is the major part of the answer to the law essay question. It is in this part of the answer that you demonstrate  your understanding of the question and knowledge of the subject matter. In a lot of instances, what differentiates an A student from a C student is the fact that an A student cited more authorities in this section of the answer.

Using the sample question above, this part of the answer to the law essay question will look something like this:

Since the inception of this rule, there have been numerous arguments for and against it by jurists, scholars, and judges alike. In the case itself, the court, in justifying its decision stated that if acceptance wasn’t complete on posting, then there is the need for the offeree to require the offeror to inform him that he had received his acceptance, and so it  goes on  ad infinitum . Scholars like Professor Sagay have disputed this justification of the rule in Adams vs Lindsell . According to him, the process doesn’t have to go on  ad infinitum.  The offeree can assume that a contract has come into fruition when the offeror receives the letter, the same way the the offeror has to assume that there is a binding contract when, and if, the offeree posts a letter of acceptance. In the subsequent case of  Household Fire Insurance Co vs Grant ,  the court gave some other concrete reasons for the adoption of the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell .  The facts of this case are as follows. The defendant applied for shares in the plaintiff company, and the plaintiff company assented by posting a letter. However, the letter didn’t get to the defendant, and as such, he didn’t know that the company accepted his offer. When the company got into liquidation, he was called upon to pay up his share. He resisted this, and thus the case was brought before the court. The court, in applying the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell ,  held  that he was liable to pay up his own shares, since a binding contract came into existence the moment the company posted its acceptance, regardless of the whether or not he received the letter. In justifying the acceptance by post rule, the court gave the following reasons: The post office is an agent of both parties. So, technically, a letter given to the post office is deemed communicated to  the offeror. By posting the letter of acceptance, there is already a valid and binding contract. There is no need for any other act to bring the contract to fruition. The offeree has merely assented to the offeror’s proposals. The offeror is free to make it a term of the contract that there  is no valid acceptance until he receives it. Any alternative rule would lead to fraud and delay in commercial transactions because the offeree would have to wait for confirmation from the offeror that he has received his acceptance. The rule is the most convenient compared to all other alternatives. However, the court’s decision was not unanimous. There was a dissenting judgement by Bramwell, L.J. He contended that if the basis of the rule was that it would cause hardship on the offeree, who might have already made arrangements based on the acceptance of  the contract, there is also hardship on the part of the offeror who might act on the belief that his offer was not accepted. This is even more relevant where the offeror didn’t receive the acceptance like in the present case. All this goes to show that the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell   isn’t one that enjoys unanimous consensus in the legal community. Recent decisions by courts in the United States suggest a shift away from this rule of acceptance by post. In the case of  Rhode Island Tool Co vs US F. Supp. 417 (1955) ,  the plaintiff’s made an offer to sell some bolts to the defendant. The defendant accepted by post, but the plaintiff discovered that they had quoted a very low price. To remedy this, they sent a telegram to the defendant revoking the offer. The telegram got to the defendant before the posted acceptance got to the plaintiff. The court held that the offer was validly revoked since the telegram got to the offeree before the plaintiff received the letter of acceptance. A similar thing happened in the case of  Dick vs US F. Supp 326 (1949) .  The facts of this case are quite similar to the facts in the above case. In this case, the offeree was the plaintiff and after accepting the offer by post, sent a telegram withdrawing it. The telegram got to the defendant before the letter of acceptance, and the court held that it was a valid revocation.

Answer Law Essay Questions Rule 4: The Conclusion

The conclusion to the law essay question is the final part of essay (just like the name suggests). There are two major ways you can conclude the essay: either by summarizing what you have written, or by giving a recommendation/comment.

To be on the safe side, you should just conclude by summarizing what  you have written. You should also make it clear that  you are concluding by including the phrase “In conclusion” at the beginning of the conclusion.

So, this is how the conclusion to the sample question would look like:

In conclusion, this work has highlighted the evolution of the rule in  Adam vs Lindsell  with special attention given to case law. This work highlighted the establishment of the rule, the justifications given by the court for this rule, and the criticisms against this rule. It finally showed a departure from this rule in other jurisdictions like the USA, due to the impact of new technology on commercial transactions.

Here’s the full answer to the essay question

So, this is how you should answer a law essay question. If you want to get a full picture of what the answer to the essay question looks like, here you go:

The importance of feedback in the formation of a contract cannot be over-emphasized. It is trite that every contract needs to have an offer and acceptance, and there is the need to communicate the offer and acceptance between the parties. In a lot of instances, this isn’t really a problem since the offer and acceptance is done in real-time (face to face). However, there are instances where it isn’t in real time, like when the communication is done by post. In this type of situation, due to the process of posting a letter or parcel, the communication between the parties can experience some delays. This has posed some problems, like “when is an acceptance valid?” Upon posting, or upon reception? One principle that has been developed by the courts to solve this problem is the rule in Adams vs Lindsell . This work is going to analyse this rule and talk about the criticisms levelled against it, with special attention being paid to case law. The rule in Adams vs Lindsell is generally referred to as acceptance by post. The rule in  this case was propounded by Lord Ellensborough in 1818. In this case, the defendant offered to sell some wool to the plaintiff. The defendant sent their offer by post. Due to an error in the posting, the letter got to the plaintiff on the evening of September 5. The plaintiff posted an acceptance the next day. If the letter was posted correctly, the defendant ought to have gotten the reply by September 7. So, when the defendant didn’t get a reply on September 7, he sold the wool to a third party on September 8. The plaintiff’s acceptance finally got to the defendant on September 9. Since the defendant had already sold the wool to a third party, the plaintiff sued for breach of contract. The major contention was when the acceptance would be valid. On the plaintiff posting it, or on the defendant receiving it. The court held in favor of the plaintiff that when it comes to contracts conducted by post, acceptance comes to fruition at the time of posting, not at  the time of receiving. Since the inception of this rule, there have been numerous arguments for and against it by jurists, scholars, and judges alike. In the case itself, the court, in justifying its decision stated that if acceptance wasn’t complete on posting, then there is the need for the offeree to require the offeror to inform him that he had received his acceptance, and so it  goes on  ad infinitum . Scholars like Professor Sagay have disputed this justification of the rule in Adams vs Lindsell. According to him, the process doesn’t have to go on  ad infinitum.  The offeree can assume that a contract has come into fruition when the offeror receives the letter, the same way the the offeror has to assume that there is a binding contract when, and if, the offeree posts a letter of acceptance. In the subsequent case of  Household Fire Insurance Co vs Grant,  the court gave some other concrete reasons for the adoption of the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell.  The facts of this case are as follows. The defendant applied for shares in the plaintiff company, and the plaintiff company assented by posting a letter. However, the letter didn’t get to the defendant, and as such, he didn’t know that the company accepted his offer. When the company got into liquidation, he was called upon to pay up his share. He resisted this, and thus the case was brought before the court. The court, in applying the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell,  held  that he was liable to pay up his own shares, since a binding contract came into existence the moment the company posted its acceptance, regardless of the whether or not he received the letter. In justifying the acceptance by post rule, the court gave the following reasons: The post office is an agent of both parties. So, technically, a letter given to the post office is deemed communicated to  the offeror. By posting the letter of acceptance, there is already a valid and binding contract. There is no need for any other act to bring the contract to fruition. The offeree has merely assented to the offeror’s proposals. The offeror is free to make it a term of the contract that there  is no valid acceptance until he receives it. Any alternative rule would lead to fraud and delay in commercial transactions because the offeree would have to wait for confirmation from the offeror that he has received his acceptance. The rule is the most convenient compared to all other alternatives. However, the court’s decision was not unanimous. There was a dissenting judgement by Bramwell, L.J. He contended that if the basis of the rule was that it would cause hardship on the offeror who might have already made arrangements based on the acceptance of  the contract, there is also hardship on the part of the offeror who might believe that his offer was not accepted. This is even more relevant where the offeror didn’t receive the acceptance like in the present case. All this goes to show that the rule in  Adams vs Lindsell  isn’t one that enjoys unanimous consensus in the legal community. Recent decisions by courts in the United States suggest a shift away from this rule of acceptance by post. In the case of  Rhode Island Tool Co vs US F. Supp. 417 (1955),  the plaintiff’s made an offer to sell some bolts to the defendant. The defendant accepted by post, but the plaintiff discovered that they had quoted a very low price. To remedy this, they sent a telegram to the defendant revoking the offer. The telegram got to the defendant before the posted acceptance got to the plaintiff. A similar thing happened in the case of  Dick vs US F. Supp 326 (1949).  The facts of this case are quite similar to the facts in the above case. In this case, the offeree was the plaintiff and after accepting the offer by post, sent a telegram withdrawing it. The telegram got to the defendant before the letter of acceptance, and the court held that it was a valid revocation. In conclusion, this work has highlighted the evolution of the rule in  Adam vs Lindsell  with special attention given to case law. This work highlighted the establishment of the rule, the justifications given by the court for this rule, and the criticisms against this rule. It finally showed a departure from this rule in other jurisdictions like the USA, due to the impact of new technology on commercial transactions.

So, here you have it, a guide to answering law essay questions. If you follow these guidelines, you should see an improvement in your grades. If you have any questions related to this, feel free to drop a comment.

P.S: If you are interested in an online course that makes it easy for you to get A’s in your law exams, you can check it out here:  Get Access to Ace LL.B Exams

72 thoughts on “ How to Effectively Answer Law Essay Questions ”

Nice one bro. But between cramming the materials given by lecturers or understanding the material which one might likely improved one’s chance of getting good grade in essay questions from your own experience.

In law exams, there are some things you have to cram. Things like the cases and statutes. For the explanatory part of the note, it’s best you understand it.

its so excited for me to find this most simple blog for law student as a guide, tnx so much, may the sky be your limit

Where can I find the statutes and cases book? I’m a political student

Thank you. This really helped Can you post the one of problem questions

Thank you so much for taking out time to be a silver linen in the dark clouds of a law student who now, understands better how to answer law questions. The time you took to practically explain this using the Adam V Lindsell case is not a waste. I duff my hat sir.

This is really useful and m gonna attempt this semester’s exams in this way. Thanks sir.

TThank you.Please I need tips on problem question.

I’m currently working on a blog post that covers that

Thank you.I will be glad if that is done in no time.

Wow!!! This is beautiful. Please what about problem question? My exam’s two weeks from today

I’m currently working on a blog post on how to deal with that. It should be out before your exams.

Where can i find it?

Here: https://djetlawyer.com/irac-how-to-answer-law-problem-questions/

wow! this is wonderful and great. this sample has taught me a better way of answering law essay question seriously. bro you are good honestly.

Thanks. It’s cool that I’ve been able to help.

Thank you very much sir. I have understood the format now. But however, if a topic that doesn’t have cases. Is it wise or necessary to find cases to relate to such topics. For instance, Legal reasoning in judicial process.

There are always cases for all topics. You just need to know where to find them. Besides, no case is specifically designated for a subject, you can use any case, as long as it is relevant.

Thanks bro, my inquisitiveness to studying law brought me to your site. Pls how do I make my dream come true. This is my nineteen years of secondary education. I have NCE N B. ed in pols n edu. Mgmt.

Eeeermmm… Have you applied to any university offering law?

Thank you so much. This has helped me greatly

You’re very welcome

Thanks bro, looking forward to that post on problem question. This is appreciated.

im inspired, this is really excellent, though it looks like a lot of work and memorization, but it was really helpful. Thanks

Thank you so much for this great Tips. have been reading it over and over again.

You’re very welcome. I’m glad to have been of help.

This is really helpful. Thanks and job well done.

Thanks a lot Mr Olamide More strength to your elbow

I am becoming more addicted to your blog, ‘barrister’ Olamide ? . Do not stop at anytime. Let’s keep flying

Thanks a lot bro.

Hello Olamide. Thank you for this comment but i really need your help for something person as regards to law. How can i reach you pls? Thanks

Send me an email.

Am very greatful for the advice you have given it’s really great. A concern: is it always a must to cite case laws when answering law questions? And what happens when you only remember facts oof the case and you don’t rremember the parties?

Cases and statutes are what separates the work of a law student from that of a sociologist or political scientists. It is quite essential that you try to cite case(s) or statutes when writing a legal piece, as they give it more authority.

It would be ideal if you remember all. But if you can’t you can just write “in a decided case”. This might not give you full marks, but you’ll still get something.

Thank you very much for the advice am really greatful

I am a law student in Ghana KNUST. It is great work you’re doing. Though most of your posts are Nigerian Law, the ones that are general is helpful to me. Thank you.

You’re welcome. I’m glad to have been of help.

A big thank you Barr Olamide this article was really helpful a lot of Law student doesn’t know how to answer law essay question but by the grace of God we will try as much as possible to adhere your tips…my regards

please, what website can I get access to full law cases from.

You can check lawpavilionplus.com. However, you have to pay.

Thanks What of problem question

Check this out https://djetlawyer.com/irac-how-to-answer-law-problem-questions/

Thanks for the advice But what if u are not so good in beating around the bush to make your answer look more interesting I usually just go straight to the point cause of time factor and I really can’t even do it.

The “beating about the bush” part is the introduction part of the answer. It should just be like one paragraph.

Thanks What of how to answer problem question

do you have to identify each section by the heading; For example 1. Introduction 2. Definition 3.Body 4.Conclusion in order to delineate these sections for the attention of the marker.

No, you don’t need to identify that. IDBC is just a framework you should have at the back of your mind when writing exams.

Please can you make a write up to writing a very good memorial for should I say guidlines to writing a very strong legal arguements. In relation to moot and mock. Thank you

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll consider it.

Am really impressed at you strive towards making a soft landing for prospective and present law student generally. In some instances,what if the question is not possessing this semblance for example “Discuss the duty of a counsel to the court” In the abovementioned question what will be the definition part?

And also if am asked to answer a short question like “the relationship between law and morality” do I still need the IDBC format?

Lastly,Is this format of answering questions only applicable in legal methods or it can serve all law essay questions?

I will be glad if you can answer me respectively…?

Thanks so much I’ve learnt a great deal, please can you post that of problem question? God bless you.

Good evening, Please I want you to out me through a law assignment (Principles of equity). The question is: ” Critically examine the contribution of equity to jurisprudence”

Thank you very much sir i have really learnt so much from your work today and i believe that before the end of this semester my grades will improve and also my knowledge and understanding on how to answer problem questions and law essay questions will improve. God bless you sir.

Please can I get your username on social media platforms…I would love to know you…you dont know how much this write up just helped me

I’m glad to have helped. I’m not so active on Social Media though. However, you can connect with me on linkedin here https://www.linkedin.com/in/olyray/ and twitter here https://twitter.com/olanrewajuolam6 . ALso, check my author bio for other social media platforms.

Okay..please can I get some materials on human rights..precisely regional protection of human rights…I can’t seem to permutate it to my satisfaction

I don’t think I currently have materials on that.

Pls can I get past questions for introduction to legal method and introduction to Islamic law

I don’t really have that at the moment.

zainab you are here…… wawu i never believed til now

Mr.Can you please help me with this: A was driving along Lagos Ibadan expressway on the 24th July, 2020 and he got to Interchange at about 5am, he then saw a BMW 2015 model under the bridge with a tag ‘for sale’. He called the no on the tag and bought the car at the rate of #500,000.00. two days after, as he was driving the vehicle on Lagos Island, he was stopped by the Police and was arrested for a stolen vehicle. He later located the seller who was also arrested by the police, he was released on bail and the vehicle was recovered from Mr A being a stolen vehicle. Mr. Intend to sue the seller for the refund of his money or to sue the police that he bought the goods in accordance with Sales of Goods Act. 1. Please advise Mr. A 2. Will your advise be different if Mr. A had bought the car at Ladipo Car Market?

Interesting and helpful will be waiting on problem question too.

Hello. Problem questions are treated here:

https://djetlawyer.com/irac-how-to-answer-law-problem-questions/

Thank you very much sir. It’s a blessings to cross paths with you going through this work. Question. Is it possible to just cite the case without giving facts of that case? For instance as was decided in Shaw v DPP 1962 AC 220 and then you continue with your analysis?

Yes. You can.

Good morning. I’m very new here. This was really helpful, thank you so much for these tips.

I however struggle with problem questions majorly. I would like to know if you have a post on how to answer problem questions??

Wow thank you so much sir. I have really been struggling with answering law essay questions This has enlightened me. I really hope I apply it well

Good morning. I’m very new here. This was really helpful, thank you so much for these tips.

Thank you very much sir . I have finally gotten a well explained answer on how to answer law questions I’m greatful 🙏

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How do I answer law school exam questions? (an in-depth guide)

Here, we give you an in-depth guide on how to answer law school exam questions. This is a step-by-step process for approaching law school exams.

Law school exams are very different than exams you may have taken in undergrad . Because they are different from the exams you are used to, you need a novel strategy if you want to answer the law school exam questions successfully and receive high scores on your law school exams. Many students do not know how to best prepare for law school final exams (in part because law schools do not teach students this!). In this post, we break down the process of answering law school exam questions into a few simple steps.

How to answer law school exam questions

Preparation for answering law school exam questions.

Make your outlines!

Before you learn  how  to answer law school exam questions and attempt to answer law school exam questions, it is crucial that you have outlines (that you have made) and that you have familiarized yourself with your outlines well enough so that you feel like you know them. Here we have an in-depth guide to outlining . We also have tips on how to outline using diagrams , and places you can find outlines online if you want to review examples of outlines.

Learn your outlines!

If you have outlines, but are struggling to learn or memorize them, you are not alone. Many students struggle with this aspect of studying. Check out this post for seven fantastic tips on learning your law school outlines, which is outlined previously in this guide!

Why do you need to outline and learn your outlines first? Because the essential tool that you need prior to answering exam questions is knowledge of the law! This is the key tool, or your secret weapon, that will help you work your way through exam questions. After all, exam questions will ask you to apply the law to a fact pattern . You cannot apply the law if you do not even know what the law is! No strategy, tool, or tip will be able to get you a high score on a law school final exam if you do not make an effort to truly know the law.

General format of a law school exam

Your law school exam will generally be a story (called a “fact pattern”). You will be expected to go through the story, sentence by sentence, and spot the issues. For example, you may have a fact pattern like this:

Anna is walking down the street, texting her friend. She is not looking where she is going. A driver, Bob, who is trying to get directions on his phone, does not see Anna and hits her. Anna falls to the ground and breaks her tailbone. Normally, the impact would not cause a broken tailbone but Anna has a brittle bone disease which causes her to get hurt very easily. Anna goes to the doctor later that afternoon. Anna fills out a form that clearly states she is allergic to various medicines. The doctor accidentally gives her medicine that she is allergic to—a medicine that Anna had listed on her form that she was allergic to. Anna has to stay in the hospital for five days to be treated for her allergic reaction. The visit for the broken tailbone cost Anna $20,000. The five-day stay in the hospital cost Anna $50,000. Discuss the issues. 

Your job will be to use the IRAC method, discussed below, to identify the issues, state the rules of law, apply them, and then arrive at conclusions for each issue spotted. You can see that the call of the question is open-ended (“Discuss the issues”) and that you are not actually told which issues to discuss. Note that your professor may give you several short fact patterns (like the one above) or may give you longer fact patterns (sometimes one to five pages long).

Step one: learn to answer exam questions using the IRAC method

The IRAC method is a commonly used method for writing law school exam answers. The letters in IRAC stands for the following words:

A = analysis

C = conclusion.

The IRAC method is formulaic. To use IRAC one essentially fills in the blanks of the following formula for each issue that one spots: “The issue is ___________. The rule is ___________. A court would analyze it as follows: [apply the law to the facts]. In conclusion, ___________ will likely win.”

The IRAC method, in its most basic form, is not the best way to answer exam questions. It is a bit too simplistic and formulaic. However, it is a great start for learning how to answer law school exam questions. Further, as you practice it, (and as we show you below) you will find yourself improving the analysis section significantly in order to write a sophisticated exam answer.

It is important that you identify most, if not all, of the issues in your exam fact pattern.  Write down the issue. Explicitly say, “The issue is whether . . . .” Note that many times, the fact pattern will not give you any hints as to what the issues are.  It will just say “Discuss the issues” or “Discuss.”  Thus, it will be up to you to spot all of the issues.

Issue-spotting is important because if you don’t spot the issue, you will not be able to apply the relevant law and analyze it (and this is what you get the most points for!). To become a good issue-spotter, practice answering exam questions and comparing them to model answers.  This will help you get an idea of the most commonly tested issues and will help you spot these issues on your final exam.

As an example, in the example fact pattern above, some of the issues are negligence, contributory negligence, foreseeability of medical malpractice, eggshell-skull rule, and joint and several liability. All of these issues should be discussed separately.

For each issue that you identify, state the rule of law that governs the issue. Make sure that you state the relevant rules of law.  Some students will write down all of the rules of law that they have learned to try to impress the professor. However, you don’t get points for these and you are wasting time writing them all down.

The analysis is the most important part of your exam answer. It is the section where you apply the law to the facts. The key to writing an average IRAC answer and an outstanding A+ answer is to develop the analysis by making lawyerly arguments on behalf of the plaintiff and on behalf of the defendant for each issue that you spot. When you get to the “A” in IRAC, ask yourself: “What would the plaintiff argue?” then ask yourself, “What would the defendant argue?” State who has the better argument. Make creative arguments, and make all of the reasonable arguments you can. This is the most important part of your essay.

When you make arguments (and when you respond) for each side, refer to specific facts in the fact pattern. Arguments can be made using the following strategies:

  • Sometimes you will argue that the facts should be interpreted one way or another.
  • Sometimes you will argue that the law should be interpreted one way or the other.
  • Sometimes you will cite policy reasons for why the case should turn out one way or another.
  • Sometimes you will argue that the traditional rule should be applied instead of the model rule (or vice versa) or that the common law rule should be applied instead of the statute (or vice versa), or that the majority rule should be applied instead of the minority rule (or vice versa).
  • Sometimes you will argue that the holding in one case should be followed rather than the holding in a different case.

Most of your arguments will be based on classroom discussion. That is, if your professor really emphasized contradicting rulings of two different cases, you would mention that in your argument section. If your professor focused instead on common law rulings vs. statutory law, you may make arguments based on that.

Even if the question says “you are counsel for the defense,” you still have to recognize (and state in your answer) arguments that the plaintiff would make. After all, the best defense lawyer will anticipate arguments by the plaintiff.

This takes your answer out of the simple IRAC format because you are not just applying the law to the facts, instead you are arguing and analyzing from both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s perspective in a lawyerly manner.

Last, state which party is more likely to win and explain your reasoning. The conclusion answers the question, “Who has the better legal argument?” The conclusion that you arrive at is not as important as the analysis that you provide.

Do not leave your conclusion too inconclusive (e.g., “It depends on what the court decides.  Either could win.”).  A conclusion that is inconclusive is not a conclusion at all! However, do not leave your conclusion too decisive either (e.g., “The plaintiff will definitely win” or “The defendant’s argument is baseless.”).  It is best not to use extremely strong words or phrases unless they truly are appropriate (and this will happen very rarely for the big issues!). The keywords to use are “probably” or “most likely.” Say something like, “For all the reasons discussed above, the defendant is most likely to win on this issue.”

Step two: practice exam questions

It is not enough to have a good strategy for answering exam questions. You have to also practice that strategy . If you were trying to get good at painting, reading books about painting all day wouldn’t be enough—you would actually have to practice painting! It is the same with answering exam questions. It is not enough to have some skills or strategies. Instead, you have to practice those skills and strategies.

The three primary sources that you should use to practice applying what you know are:

  • (1) Exams that your professor has given students in the past (check with your professor) ***This is by far the best resource!*** Make sure to obtain model answers or sample answers if possible.
  • (2) Problems in supplements— such as Examples and Explanations or Glannon Guides . This is a great resource for practicing all throughout the semester because you can practice analyzing one issue at a time and hone in on your skills.
  • (3) Other resources that contain exams with model answers:  The best thing to do is Google, for example, “Contracts exam model answer.” You will find updated Contracts exams with model or sample answers. We also have compiled a great resource of practice exams here if you want to save yourself some time Googling it!

After you write your exam answers, always spend a long time comparing your answer to the model answer and grading your answer. This is how you will improve on your exam-writing skills. You will be actively learning the law, giving yourself feedback, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and find yourself improving over time! If you do this regularly, by the time you get to the final exam, you will know what to expect, and it honestly won’t seem like that difficult or daunting of a task because you will have already done it so many times! I graduated as the #1 law student and got A+’s in over half of my law school classes. Practicing exams ahead of time was a huge reason  I was able to achieve that accomplishment.

If you are unsure how to compare your answer to the model answer, we recommend that you start by asking yourself these questions:

Questions to ask when comparing your answer to the model answer

  • Did I spot the same issues that the writer of the model answer spotted?
  • Did I miss important issues? Which ones? How will I avoid this in the future?
  • Did I include issues that the model answer did not include? If so, are these issues relevant?
  • Did I clearly lay out all the rules and elements of law for each issue?
  • Did I discuss laws that weren’t relevant? How can I avoid this in the future?
  • Did I make arguments on behalf of each party (where applicable)?
  • Did I analyze the problem as in-depth as the model answer did?
  • Did I spend too much time analyzing an issue that should obviously turn out in one party’s favor?
  • Did I know enough law to fully analyze the question or do I need to review my outline more?
  • Was my conclusion too vague? Was it too strongly worded?
  • Was my conclusion correct (or at least arguably correct)?
  • Did I spend too much time restating facts or conclusions?
  • Did I answer the exam in the appropriate amount of time?
  • What are my strengths?
  • How can I capitalize on my strengths and make them even better?
  • What do I need to practice more?

Commonly-asked questions on how to answer law school exam questions

What is the most important resource i can consult if i have limited time.

The best resource at your disposal is your professor’s old exams. These show you what the professor likes to test and can help you get used to their format and their exam approach. Make sure that you obtain any model answer or sample answer that goes with the exam. Some professors do not make past exams available for review. Some only offer a couple of prior exams available for review, in which case it is a good idea to seek exams using the other resources mentioned above.

What if my professor includes multiple-choice or short answer questions?

It is becoming more common to include a multiple-choice question section and/or a short answer question section on law school exams. Below we tell you how to answer law school exam questions that contain multiple-choice, short answer, or other nontraditional questions.

Multiple-choice

If your professor includes multiple-choice questions on your exam, it makes sense to get as much practice answering multiple-choice questions as you can before your exam. Do a Google search for questions or, if you have time, order books online with multiple-choice questions. Note: we also have hundreds of law school multiple-choice questions in our JD Advising study aids (which you can sample for free!) Many bar exam review books will have multiple-choice questions that cover the material in first-year law school courses.  It is amazing how much you can increase your score through practice!

Make sure that when you begin to practice answering multiple-choice questions that you go through the questions slowly and methodically. Dissect each question. After you read the question, ask yourself what legal issue is being tested and what legal rule you need to know to answer the question. If you do not know the legal rule, look it up in your outline. Lastly, go through the answer choices and explain why one is correct and why the other three are incorrect. If you complete all of the questions slowly and methodically when you practice, you will learn the legal rules better and you will also internalize the best way to approach questions on your exam. You will not fall for tricks!

Closer to your final exam, work on speed. Practice answering several questions each day and make sure you are able to answer them in the time allotted.

If you are looking for a lengthier article about how to improve your score on multiple-choice questions, see this post on how to answer multiple-choice questions : it is geared toward bar exam students but can be helpful to any students taking a multiple-choice exam!

Short answer

If your professor includes short answer questions on his or her exam, get your hands on as many short answer questions as possible. If your professor releases any past exams, focus on these first! Also, consult a supplement. Many supplements have plenty of short answer questions for you to answer. (Our law school study aids contain hundreds of short-answer questions written by top law professors!)

Combination

If your professor gives a combination of questions (some multiple-choice, some essay) spend your time answering both kinds of questions when you practice. Allocate your time based on how your final exam score is calculated. If, say, only 10% of the exam is based on your multiple-choice score, and 90% is based on your essay score, focus primarily on practicing essay questions. If it is the opposite, focus primarily on practicing multiple-choice questions!

Go to the next topic, Where can I find law school practice exams?

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How To Answer Law Questions (Essay & Problem Questions)

How to answer law questions: Over the years, law schools and law universities have evolved two methods of asking test or exam questions. They are the problem and essay questions patterns. Basically, these two ways of asking questions require a totally different ways of answering them that are different from the traditional ways of answering questions in the primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.

One major problem that new law university intakes encounter, is the fact that many of them usually have the mindset that where they are (university) will be the same with where they are coming from (secondary school); and because of this, they tend not to ask questions about how well to answer their law questions thus going on to use the traditional or general method and ending up not getting the expected result or even failing.

In this article, I am going to be expounding on the way of tackling law essay questions for the benefit of students. However, what I will be discussing is the general rule which is subject to what your specific tutor or lecturer may require from you.

So, it is advised that in as much as you learn how to generally answer law essay questions, you should pay attention and understand your lecturers so as to give him/her what their individual preferences are, like asking you to write a concised answer or be elaborate, or add this and remove that  etc.

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Mojekwu v Mojekwu: Facts, Issues and Decision of the court

Table of Contents

Differences between Law problem and Essay Questions

As you may know, Law problem questions are not the same as essay questions. Problem questions are those law questions that tell live stories about the relationship between people and then require you to identify legal issues from those interactions, address the issues with relevant authorities and then to advise the parties on their different rights using the IRAC method.

It is important to note that a single problem question could have a series of different events which are based on different legal principles.

On the other hand, an essay question is a question which requires an individual to write on legal principles without using a particular format like the IRAC method.

Notminding the fact that you are not required to advise the parties or to use a particular method to answer your question, you have to have some mental steps at the back of your mind so as to make your work enticing and arranged before your tutor or Lecturer.

HOW TO ANSWER LAW PROBLEM QUESTIONS USING IRAC METHOD

Just like I explained at the beginning of this work, a problem question is a question that test candidates by giving them stories/cases to solve. Here, law students will be expected to draw out the issues of law in the story, as it relates to what they have been taught in the classroom.

Take for instance, a problem question on customary law might tell the story of a man who beats his wife because the custom provides for it. After explaining the story, students will be required to either provide the position of the law on the issues raised in the story or to advise the parties in the story.

The most acceptable way of answering law problem questions is through IRAC method. IRAC is actually the best because it makes it very easy for students to explain any legal principle with authorities in the simplest format. Below are the things you must know about IRAC method of answering law questions.

Meaning of IRAC

The word “IRAC” is an acronym which stands for:

  • Issues – I
  • Rule of law – R
  • Application – A
  • Conclusion – C

Note that if you must answer problem questions using this format, you must have this acronym at the back of your mind. If you miss any step, then you are getting the whole question wrong.

Now, to make sure that you understand the steps listed above, i will take my time to explain what you are supposed to do in every step. Remember, this is to teach you how to answer law problem question using IRAC method.

Your first concern is to determine the issue or issues implicated in the question. This determination involves asking yourself, what is the problem sought to be addressed in the case?

Example: What is the liability of a master regarding tort committed by his servant while engaged in a conduct expressly prohibited by the master?

The importance of accurate identification of the issue(s) is that it narrows your response to the gist of the question.

Once you accomplish this goal, you will know automatically that there is no need to state, for instance, that “the tort borders on vicarious liability” or for you to describe general elements of the tort in question.

Your task is to focus only on those elements or information that substantively (not tangentially) speak to the issue(s) you have successfully identified. Relevance is the key here. Recall my admonition, “ the more you write, the more you expose your ignorance .”

Note that you are not expected to call the names of parties in the story in the issues because they are issues for determination in law. You can only mention the names of parties in the story or case given to you when you reach third stage which is APPLICATION

Also read: Are lawyers liars? The truth as to whether lawyers are liars

RULE OF LAW

The “R” or Rule (rule of law) in IRAC is also called “reasoning.” This is because the applicable rule of law is reasoned from the facts of the case. As you think through the problems presented, aided by the issue you have successfully identified, the rule will emerge. What rule of law will guide the court in reaching a correct decision, assuming the same facts?

This is the question that you need to ask your self; it is also the question that you need to address. A rule of law in vicarious liability, for instance, is that “ a master is liable for the acts of his servant, even when expressly prohibited, so long as the servant acted within the scope of his employment. ”

Under the rule of law, students are expected to cite their authorities. Authorities here can be cases, statutes, dictum of judges, articles which are related to the issue in question. It is very important that you cite authorities because that is what will back up the rule of law and legal principles in the case.

APPLICATION:

This is where you apply the rule of law to the issue(s) you have raised. By doing this, you are applying the rule of law to the actual story in the problem question given to you. In the application, you are expected to pick those authorities and rules of law that concerns the issues raised and apply them to the matter effectively.

Always pay attention to exception(s) to the general rule, if any, and clearly outline/justify any distinctions that might be helpful to your argument. By constantly reminding yourself of the issue(s), you are bound to succeed in steering yourself away from irrelevance.

A great analysis is targeted to the issue(s) identified and is judged by the degree of focus/precision as well as the presentation (language/expressions used in articulating your argument).

Finally, the conclusion (“C”) . A few sentences would suffice to wrap up your discussion. Briefly state the outcome of your analysis. Where the question requires that you advise the parties, the conclusion is the best place to do that.

Simply tell each of the parties their rights and persuade them to sue the when the need be. Here, you can also rebuke the party in default in the case and tell him why he/she is at fault.

How to answer law problem question

Okay! Now that you know what all the letters in the acronym IRAC entails, I will give you an example of how a perfect law problem question is answered. The example below is a problem question that borders on the law of defamation.

If you are a student and you don’t know anything about the law of defamation, don’t worry. Just keep reading. You will still be able to understand the steps taken in every section.

Also read: List of less competitive universities in Nigeria (2020)

Sample of a law problem question answered using IRAC method

The Daily Trumpeter, a popular Newspaper in Enugu recently published a report of the proceedings of the Enugu State High Court in a land case between Chief Okoto and Barrister Akuepue under the caption ‘Judge calls a popular Enugu Lawyer: ‘A Crook and a Land Speculator”.

In the article, the newspaper reporter, Ade also stated thet Nigerian lawyers are in the habit of using their knowledge of the law to deprive innocent ‘laymen’ of their land. Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama, another popular lawyer based in Enugu have sepaprately sued Joe, the edito of The Daily Trumpeter and Ade for publication.

Issue 1: Whether Newspaper Publishers can be liable for publishing court/tribunal proceedings

Issue 2: What must one prove in order for his defense of ‘fair comment’ to be successful

Issue 3: What is the legal position on defamation of a class or a group of person

RULE OF LAW:

Defamation refers to the publication of a statement which is calculated to injure a person and cause right-thinking members of the society to shun or avoid him, or even cause them to hate him and also convey an imputation on him which is injurious to his office, trade or profession – s.137 Enugu State Torts law, cap 150 2004(which shall hereinafter be called ESTL), Sketch v. Ajagbemokeferi.

People are thus warned against idle gossip which may likely impugn another person when communicated to a third party. Defamation may either be in the form of libel which is in a permanent form such as newspaper publication, television or radio broadcasts; or otherwise in slander which has a transient nature usually verbalized or through gesticulations conveying a defamatory connotation.

For an action in defamation to succeed, the following essential elements must be proved, as a thing of necessity:

The words complained of must be defamatory:

If right-thinking people of sane minds would think less of an individual or shun and avoid him due to a statement, then this element may be said to have been successfully proved.

Defamatory words must refer to the plaintiff:

It is not sufficient that the defamatory statement described a person merely by his name Akintla v. Anyiam . It is enough where he is identified by his initials, post, Photograph, or even his office – Dafe v. Teswinor.

The words complained of must be published:

It has been held in a vast litany of cases that it is not the publication of defamatory statement but the publication that grounds a cause of action. In fact, in Pullman v. Hill , Lord Esher, Master of the Rolls said thus ‘‘ Publication is the making known of the defamatory matter after it has been written to such person other than the person to whom it is written’’ It therefore follows that publication in itself is what grounds a cause of action- s. 141 ESTL .

Also, communication to the plaintiff himself cannot ground a cause of action for the purposes of determining liability in defamation because defamation is injury to ones reputation and protects not an individual’s opinion of himself but the estimation in which others hold him – Okotcha v. Olumese.

However, even if a person has been alleged to have defamed another, there is an array of defenses open to him. Such defenses are:

  • Unintentional Defamation
  • Innocent dissemination
  • Justification( or truth) – s. 163 ESTL
  • Volenti Non fit injuria – Chapman v.
  • Fair comment- s. 194(1) ESTL

Under the defenses of privilege , we have what is known as absolute privileges and also qualified privileges. Circumstances under which the defense of qualified privilege can arise are varied but for the purposes of our case, we have an occasion known as Statements made in performance of a legal, moral or social duty – s.178 ESTL .

In the connection above, for such an occasion to arise, the person giving out information which is alleged to contain defamatory statements must have a duty to give such information on grounds of public policy and also the party receiving such information, that is, the person to whom the matter is published to must have a corresponding duty of receiving such information.

Perhaps, this is the reason the law admits that radio and television broadcasters as well as Newspaper Publishers and Proprietors are covered by the said defense – NTA v. Babatope . It is also the legal position, pursuant to s.185 (1) that qualified privilege very much applies to those who publish reports of judicial proceedings. However, such broadcasters or publishers must be very careful enough to give reports of what actually took place in court, not necessarily a verbatim report of the proceedings but at least an abridged or condensed report will be privileged, provided that it gives a fair, accurate and correct impression of what transpired.

Also read: Names of Nigerian Presidents From 1960 till Date (Full list) 

It clearly and necessarily follows that when such reports are substantially inaccurate, such a report will lose the protective cloak of this defense. Thus, in Omo-Osagie v, Okutobo, a report of a newspaper of certain court proceedings bore the caption, ‘‘Chief Justice Tells a Teacher: ‘ You are a Bad Woman’.

However, those words were never used by the Judge, and the courts held that such a newspaper report had lost the defense of qualified privilege. The defense of fair comment stated above, consists of criticisms of matters of public interest in the form of comments, by citizens upon true facts, such comments being honestly made without malice – s.194(1) Enugu State Torts law, cap 150 2004.

In order for this defense to avail a person, the following requirements must be proved to the satisfaction of the courts trying the issue:

The Matter commented on must be of Public Interest:

The matter must be one of general concern as to affect the generality of the population at large- London Artists Ltd. v. Littler. Thus issues of land fraud by legal practitioners may fall for issues of public interest.

The Comment must be an expression of Opinion not an assertion of fact:

It is noteworthy that the defense of fair comment consists of two things: a set of facts which must be true and the commentator’s opinion on those facts- s. 194(1) (a). The distinction between a comment and a fact, however, depends on the merits of each case.

The Comment must be Honest- s. 194(1)(c) So long as a commentator honestly expressed his view, it is immaterial that he used excessively strong language o that people read all sorts of innuendoes into it, if he made the comment honestly, he has nothing at all to fear. However, criticisms cannot be used as a cloak for an attack, or for personal imputations on the plaintiff not arising out of the subject matter not based on the facts.

The Comment must be devoid of Malice- s.195 ESTL Malice is a complete bar to a defense of fair comment. Malice means making abuse of the occasion for some indirect purpose – Bakare v. Ibrahim.

When a class or group of persons i.e. lawyers, teachers, doctors etc, are defamed, no individual member of the class is entitled to bring action upon grounds that he has been defamed save only when the class is so small or so ascertainable that what is said of the class is necessarily said of each and every member of it, or if the circumstances of the case show that the plaintiff was singled out and defamed – Knuppfer v. London Express Newspaper Ltd.

Thus, in Zik Enterprises ltd. V. Awolowo , an article which contained defamatory statements against the Action Group was regarded by the court not to refer to the plaintiff but to the Action Group as a political party since it was a large group and the plaintiff could not show circumstances which proved that he was singled out.

Also read: How to answer Law problem questions effectively

APPLICATION

It seems that Daily Trumpeter will not escape liability if the report they gave of the court proceedings was grossly inaccurate or did not give a correct impression of what actually transpired therein.

Also, Ade seems to have overstepped the boundaries of fair comment by making such a comment, he seems to have made a statement of fact because saying that someone is in the habit of doing something is as much as imputing a disreputable motive upon him which is very much actionable in law. Hence the cloak of fair comment may no longer protect.

Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama by bringing action against Ade seem to be oblivious of the applicable guiding principles in the circumstance. In this connection, a defamatory statement against Nigerian lawyers as a whole is too large a group for the purposes of an action in defamation, unless, if they can show that they were singled out and defamed. They may be going on a wild goose chase.

Joe : You will only escape liability if what you said happened in court was accurate, otherwise, you will fall for liability. Ade: It is true you have overstepped the bounds of fair comment; however you may still escape liability under the principles of defamation of a class or group.

Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama : You both can only bring action against Ade and Joe should what Joe reported about the proceedings be inaccurate. With respect to Ade although he has lost the defense of fair comment, he can still be liable for publishing what Joe reported, only the will you have a cause of action against him.

Must read: Most populated universities in Nigeria (2020)

Four things to note when answering law questions

How to answer law problem question

Note the little differences in the way every lecturer want students to answer their questions:

Even though IRAC method of answer law problem questions is generally acceptable, some lecturers make little changes to the way they want their questions to be answered.

For instance, some lecturers posit that after outlining your issues, you must tackle them one after the other. What that means is that, you are expected to apply IRAC in the different issues ( One after the other ).

Well, it is impossible for me to cover all the different styles lecturers like. So, I enjoin you to always attend classes. By attending classes, you will know the best method to answer your law problem questions.

It will surprise you to know that some lecturers don’t even like their questions to be answered using IRAC. So you see, you must know what every lecturer wants.

Time is a very important factor:

To perform very well as a law student, you must have it in mind that time is very important. You have to be time conscious because you have only but 2:30 minutes to answer all the questions you were given. Most times, students are expected to answer at least 3 questions in law examinations.

So you must learn to manage your time. If you do not manage your time properly, you will definitely not finish answering your questions.

How to answer law problem question

I personally recommend that you get a wristwatch for your exams. It will go a long way to help you plan how to use your time adequately.

Always cite your authorities with red pen:

One of the pivotal information that has never been skipped in all the tutorials I have read on how to answer law problem question is the citing of authorities.

The importance of using a red pen when citing authorities in law examinations cannot be over emphasized. The reason is because, it makes it easy for anyone who is assigned to mark your examination script.

So, in other not to jeopardize your chance of success in any law exam, you should use red pen to cite your authorities. Your authorities here may include: cases, names of judges, articles, statutes, dictums etc.

Dive detailed information about the issues raised in every case:

Most times, lecturers prefer giving more marks to students who were able to give them detailed information about the question than students who just answered the question.

For sure, if you answer the question correctly you will definitely be given the mark you deserve. But if you give more details, you will likely earn more marks.

Take for instance, you might be asked to explain the term “ Nigeria legal system “. If you go ahead to just define it and move to the next question, you won’t even get your full marks there. To get your full marks, you must also highlight the features of Nigerian legal systems and any other subtopic in the topic. Though, you are not expected to go too deep. Just make sure you give detailed information. Some lecturers love it.

Okay! for now, this is all i can disclose on this topic (How to answer law problem question). Like i have rightly mentioned, it is important to always attend classes because the way a particular lecturer will want his/her problem question to be answered might be different from the way another lecturer wants it.

That notwithstanding, i have explained the most generally accepted way of answering law question using IRAC method above. So, if you have not written law examination before, you can safely understand the IRAC method as i explained it. Hope this article was helpful? Do let me know if you have any question or confusion as to how to answer law problem question using IRAC method. I will be glad to help.

how to answer essay law questions

Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.

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Writing Law Problem Questions

How to write a legal problem essay.

Law problem question essays give you an imaginary scenario. They then ask you to comment on the legal issues that arise and advise the parties. This guide will explain how to answer a problem essay with eight handy tips.

1. Read the Facts

The first step to answering any law problem question is to read the entirety of the facts you are given. Do not just jump into answering the question. Take your time and ensure that you fully understand all the issue involved in the case. It may help to highlight parts of the fact-pattern that you think are important.

2. Structuring Your Analysis

This is a mistake many law undergraduates and GDL students make when writing a scenario law essay. They look at the facts and recognise that they are similar to a case they’ve read. They will then immediately assume ‘this is like Joe Bloggs vs John Smith’, and answer the question accordingly. For this reason, examiners often complain that law essays lack coherent structure or proper analysis.

To avoid this pitfall, when answering legal problem questions you must adopt a structure .

Say you have an problem on whether or not the defendant is liable in the tort of negligence. The facts look similar to a particular case you’ve read on contributory negligence. Your first instinct is to start talking about defences. Stop . Ignore the similarity completely for now, and think. Before you can even discuss defences, you must talk about whether the defendant is liable in the first place. What does the law actually require you to establish to prove liability? Is the defendant liable? If so, what defences might he rely on, and how are those established?

Develop steps that you can put every scenario relating to that area of the law through in order. For example:

Contract Law

Contract law, signing agreements

  • Has there been an offer ?
  • Was the offer accepted ?
  • Are the terms of the agreement certain ?
  • Do the parties intend to be legally bound ?
  • Is there consideration ?
  • What are the terms of the contract?
  • Is there a breach ?
  • What kind of breach has occurred?
  • Is there a defence to the breach?
  • What are the innocent party’s remedies and options?

Criminal Law

Criminal law, holding a fence

  • Is the actus reus of the offence established?
  • Is the mens rea of the offence established?
  • Is there a relevant defence?

Negligence Law

Negligence law, stack of cars

  • Does the defendant owe the claimant a duty of care ?
  • Has the duty been breached ?
  • Is the breach a factual cause of the loss?
  • Is the breach a legal cause of the loss?
  • Is the loss sufficiently non-remote ?

This doesn’t mean you have devote a whole paragraph to every step. If its obvious that the defendant owed a legal duty, a single sentence pointing this out will suffice. If the question tells you there is a contract, simply note you will assume the contract was validly-formed. The most controversial and difficult points should be given the majority of your essay’s attention.

Nevertheless, you get credit for completing each necessary step in the order in which they arose. This is how a court of law would most naturally consider them. This method of structuring essays also stops you missing interesting elements of problem questions. You might miss these points by skipping straight to what you think is the most obvious issue.

3. Structuring the Overall Essay

The problem question may present you with multiple areas of law. For example, a defendant may have committed different kinds of crime, or liability might arise in both negligence and nuisance. Alternatively, the question may ask you to discuss the liability of several different people.

If you have to advise different parties, discuss the liability of each party in turn . Otherwise, a good rule is to  deal with each area of the law in turn . Give each area of law its own separate section. This will lead to a clearer essay structure than trying to deal with each event chronologically.

4. Structuring Individual Paragraphs

You can structure your discussion of individual issues any way which makes sense and follows a logical structure. One of the most popular ways for structuring discussions is the IRAC method. This stands for:

State the issue you are about to discuss

State the applicable legal rules (with authority or statutory references)

Discuss how these legal rules apply to the facts in front of you

State what the conclusion to the issue is based on your analysis

For example, lets say you are writing a problem question in tort law. You have a defendant who has run over a pedestrian with his car. You think he may be liable in negligence, so you start by considering whether he owes a duty of care. You would structure your analysis of this issue as follows:

The first issue is whether the defendant owes the claimant a duty of care.

If the case’s facts are non-novel, whether a duty is owed depends on the applicable precedent ( Robinson v CC of West Yorkshire Police ). It is established that road-users owe others a duty of care ( Nettleship v Weston ).

In this case, the defendant is a road-user because he was driving a car on the road. The claimant was also a road-user because they were a nearby pedestrian.

Therefore, the defendant owes the claimant a duty of care.

5. Not Enough Information Given?

What if the problem question does not seem to give you enough information to advise on the parties’ legal position? It is completely fine to write ‘the problem question does not give us enough information to determine X’.

For example, lets say you think that whether the defendant was in breach depends on how fast he was driving. The facts do not tell you how fast he was driving. Do not be afraid to say so!

However, saying that there isn’t enough information is NOT enough. You must then go on to say what information you would need to advise the party. Once you have set this out, explain how the law would apply to the facts if you had this information.

For example, you might say ‘if the defendant was speeding, he is likely in breach of his duty.’ Explain why. Then, say that ‘if he was not speeding, he is likely not in breach.’ Finish by explaining why this is the case.

This shows you are thinking like a lawyer. If a client walks in and gives half the facts, you need to be able to ask the right questions. You then need to be able to evaluate the facts, whatever they turn out to be.

6. Red Herrings

Sometimes, the fact-pattern will include information which seems salient, but actually is not. This is known as a red herring. These red herrings are designed to test your ability to pick apart relevant information from irrelevant information.

Many students assume that all of the information in the problem question must be relevant and addressed. When presented with a red herring, these students will panic and start guessing at how the information affects the outcome. Instead, the examiners expect you to point out that the information is not relevant. You can get bonus points by explaining why the law doesn’t consider this kind of information relevant.

For example, say you have a commercial law question where the owner of a painting stores it with a local art dealer. The owner then sees that the art dealer has put the painting up for sale without authority. The owner decides he will call the dealer later in the day to clear up the problem. However, he negligently forgets. The painting is later sold to a third-party.

The red herring here is the owner’s negligence. This seems like it should be relevant to whether the owner has lost property in the painting. In reality it is not: you cannot lose ownership of property because you were negligent. Because the information seems relevant, it is tempting to discuss it at length, for example by talking about estoppel by negligence. This wastes time and will not get you any marks. Rather, you should say ‘the owner’s negligence is not relevant to whether he retains ownership of the painting’. Then, move on.

7. Don’t Hedge Your Bets (and other Stylistic Tips)

If there’s one thing most law professors hate, its a phrase like ‘it seems from the evidence that there might be a possibility of supporting the argument that…’.

Confidence in essay-writing is not something that is stressed enough at school or university. When you aren’t sure, it is tempting to hedge your bets with language like ‘probably’ and ‘it might be the case’. Resist that urge. If your analysis is correct but don’t sound confident, the examiner may doubt that you firmly grasp the material. If it is not correct, saying ‘probably’ in front of the error won’t help in any case.

Other stylistic tips for writing a professional sounding essay include:

  • Avoid contractions (‘don’t’, ‘can’t’), slang phrases and other informal language;
  • Avoid the phrase ‘it is submitted that’. This kind of wording is for moots and legal debating, not academic legal essays;
  • Try to deal with only one issue per paragraph. This makes the essay less visually intimidating;
  • If simple language and short sentences get your point across, use simple language and short sentences. There is a temptation to sound ‘professional’ by using multi-clauses sentences and complex vocabulary. This just makes the essay harder to read.

8. Cite, Cite and Cite Again

If you ever make any kind of positive claim about the law, back it up with a citation. What proves your claim? A case? A statutory provision? Cite it. You need to assure the marker that you aren’t just making lucky guesses. Also, many institutions’ grading criteria specify that you can’t get more than a 2:2 if there is insufficient citation.

Generally there is no need to give the year, report and page number of case-law in exams. However, you should check your university’s best practice guidelines to know for sure.

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how to answer essay law questions

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how to answer essay law questions

Article written by Imaan Fatima, University of Strathclyde Scots and English LLB Student.

There are two main types of questions you will come across when studying law: essay questions and problem questions. Both styles of questions can cover any area of law but require very different approaches when being answered. Every university will have a different grade criterion, so it’s important to become familiar with yours. However, there are some general tips which can be used by all law students to help best answer these questions.

Essay Questions:

I’m sure most of us have encountered these types of questions. We’re usually asked to critically evaluate, compare, or discuss some sort of legal issue.

These questions require a structured answer with an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. But before you even attempt to produce an answer, you need to create a plan. This is crucial because it will help you understand what is being asked, set out the key issues you wish to discuss and the sources you want to use.

Your introduction should be relatively short – roughly 10% of the overall word count. It should clearly outline what the question is asking you to do and how you propose to go about answering this question to arrive at an appropriate conclusion. The main body of your essay will consist of legal arguments. Each paragraph will likely answer a different aspect of the question, but they should be coherently ordered and flow into one another, instead of reading as a sequence of unrelated points. Finally, you’ll have to draw together your arguments, without introducing any new pieces of information, to reach a reasoned conclusion.

When writing an essay, think about what the examiner is looking for and the skills that are being tested: communication skills; analytical skills; research skills; and the ability to construct an argument.

Problem Questions:

Unlike essay questions, problem questions are presented as lengthy scenarios in which one or more legal disputes arise. As a law student, you will be expected to discuss these disputes and explain how they are likely to be resolved, if possible.

The best approach to answering problem questions is the IRAC method, which stands for issue, rule, application, and conclusion. This is a four-step process that requires you to identify the legal issue; identify the relevant legal rule; apply that rule to the issue at hand; and reach a conclusion to answer the question. It’s important to remember that the IRAC method should never be applied to the question as a whole. Instead, your answer should be divided based on the number of separate legal issues which occur.

Problem questions often have no single correct answer, and the facts will likely contain a number of grey areas, which means you might not always have enough facts to provide a conclusive answer. However, you can also gain marks by stating that some information is missing and hypothesising what the outcome would be if certain facts were included.

Whereas essays are designed to test your ability to discuss and critically evaluate the law, problem questions are more concerned with the application of legal principles. This means simply having knowledge of the law isn’t enough. Neither is writing everything you know about the topic and hoping to receive marks for it. You need to be able to identify relevant information within the question and apply legal reasoning to the facts.

Imaan Fatima

Imaan Fatima

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You are here, 6 top tips for answering problem questions in law.

how to answer essay law questions

As a law student you’re likely to spend a fair bit of time writing answers to problem questions, so it’s best to be prepared. Below Lawyer Monthly’s latest law school & careers feature benefits from expert top tips from  Emma Jones , Lecturer in Law and member of the  Open Justice  team at The Open University.

Problem questions can help you to develop valuable skills around identifying relevant information, applying legal principles to specific scenarios and writing advice in a clear and logical manner. Here are some top tips on how to approach this type of question.

1. Read the question carefully

OK, so this really applies to all types of assignments, but with problem questions there can be a pretty lengthy scenario for you to get to grips with. It can help to highlight or underline, but even better try making a flow chart or chronology of events, or a spider diagram detailing the involvement of each party.

2. Find a way to break down the question.

One common way to approach analysing problem questions is the IRAC method – identify the Issue, explain the Legal Rule, set out its Application and reach a Conclusion based on this. Depending on the scenario you’re given, you might need to work through this process several times, for example, once for each party involved or each potential cause of action

3. Show what you know

When it comes to explaining the legal rules that apply to a scenario, it can be tempting to quote sections of statute or parts of judgments. Although it’s great to reference legislation and cases, setting out their meaning in your own words really demonstrates your understanding. It can be tricky to get the balance between keeping the original meaning and putting it in your own way, but it does get easier with practice.

4. Reason, reason, reason!

The Application part of a problem question is key. It can be very tempting to jump from the legal rule to a conclusion, but you need to take your reader through your thought-process step-by-step. Often, there is no one “right” answer to a scenario, the key is to construct a clear and sound argument using legal authorities and explaining how they apply to the facts.

5. Get the structure and presentation right

This leads neatly onto the next point – structuring your work carefully. Your Law School may have its own rules on this, for example, whether or not to include a brief introduction and when to use headings. It is important to follow these. The general rule is to try and make your structure and writing as easy to follow as possible. Imagine you are writing for an intelligent lay person with no previous knowledge of law. In fact, you can always ask a friend or family member to take a look to see if they can follow what you’re saying.

6. Reaching a conclusion

When you are trying to write a conclusion, you may find that there are parts of the scenario that are a little ambiguous or where there is potential for different outcomes. If that is the case, it is fine to indicate that you can’t reach a final conclusion, but it is important to explain why not. On the other hand, if you can give a conclusion, you should try and do so. It’s usually fairly clear when someone has lacked the confidence to make a decision.

Problem questions can be challenging, but they are a great way of developing key skills which are needed in plenty of careers, not least for working on the legal profession. Just remember, one day you may have a real client in front of you, and be very glad you had the chance to practice first!

This article was originally published in  Lawyer Monthly . Click to read the  original article .

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How to Answer Law Exam Questions perfectly (step by step with examples)

Isack Kimaro

  • 18 January, 2023

How to Answer Law Exam Questions (with examples)

This is a definitive guide on how to answer law exam questions.

This guide will tell you how to answer essay-type questions and scenario/problem questions in a law exam with sample questions/examples.

I know, the process of becoming a lawyer/ an advocate  might become hard when it comes to law exams.

See: How to become a lawyer: From Undergrad to the Bar

Generally, law exams are technical and demand a high degree of attention and care when attending.

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According to the National Conference of Bar exams (NCBE) , the lowest percentage of overall pass rates for the February 2022 bar exam as reported by each jurisdiction following the release of their exam results in the US was 52.6% ( Alabama )

The focus here is to give you basic tips that will act as a guide when doing law school exams , bar exams , or any other law examination so that you can be among those 52.6%.

Here I will take you through;

  • Types of questions in law exams
  • How to answer Essay-type questions in a law exam
  • Sample answer to Essay-type question in a law exam
  • Scenario or problem-type questions in a law exam (IRAC)
  • Sample answer to Scenario type question
  • How to study for law school exams (and get passed)
  • How to study law and pass (pro tips for beginners)

Jump to section

Types of questions in a law exam

Essay-type questions in a law exam, example of essay-type questions in a law exam.

Introduction

Example of scenario or problem type question in a law exam

How to answer the scenario/problem question in a law exam, rule/law applicable, arguments/application of the law to the facts.

Generally, there are two common types of questions in law exams i.e. Essay type questions and scenario/problem-type questions. Each kind has its own mode and style of answering.

Essay-type questions are the form of questions that require the candidate to explain, discuss or comment on the specific legal issues as asked by the examiner.

  • All confessions are admissions but the reverse is not the case. Discuss.
  • Copyright law does not protect an idea, it protects the expression of an idea.”  With relevant examples discuss the above statement
  • Trace the origin and development of International law

How to answer essay-type questions in a law exam

In Answering essay-type questions the candidate will be required to write an essay. An essay consists of three major parts that are an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. In order to successfully answer questions in law exams; a candidate must exactly know what the question demands.

A student may determine the demand of the question when concentrating on the wording of the question.

The words like elucidate, critically discuss, etc. connote what is supposed to be done.

This is a very important part of the essay.

The way you mold it may tell the examiner if you understood the question or not.

Many students think that introduction is a part that contains a definition of key terms, however, that may be true but it is not an effective way of molding your introduction.

For your introduction to appear more professional do not defines terms in the introduction, rather tell the examiner how you are going to tackle the question. Show him what, how, and where you will focus when responding to the question at hand.

For the purpose of answering the exam, A good introduction contains at least 5 sentences or two paragraphs.

A good introduction must show the examiner that you have understood the question.

Example of a good introduction

Trace the origin and development of International law.
Every society is required to have relations with other societies, and in order to regulate the relations between the states, there is required a system of law thus international law. This work will focus on tracing the origin of international law and the development of international law by tracing it through its divided stages of the period which was seemed to develop from, that is during the primitive and ancient period, the Greek era (6th Century BC), the Romans era, the Middle age development, during the 15th and 16th centuries, the modern international law (Hugo Grotius), during the 19th century, during First and Second World War and thereafter and lastly on the present status of international law.

Definition of terms when necessary will come as the second part of the introduction.

Before jumping to the main body you must provide transitional sentences.

The sentence shows what you’re going to do on the main body depending on what you have been asked.

An example of a transitional sentence is ‘ The following is the origin and development of international law ’

After having your introduction, now you’re moving to the main body.

The main body contains the main answer to the question.

Your main body must be well arranged, number your points, make them visible, be clear in your explanation, and be neat.

Examiners have a lot of papers to mark, make him interested in yours by clarity, brevity, and lucid explanation. KISS (Keep it Simple and Straight) your main body.

Do not bring new issues to the conclusion. This part should contain a summary of key issues that transpired in the main body.

Scenario or problem-type questions in a law exam

Scenario or problem questions in law exam are the types of questions that contain a set of hypothetical or real facts on a certain legal issue and requires a candidate to analyze the fact and solve the problem by applying the relevant legal principles to the fact.

Scenario questions may demand the candidate to advise and/or draft a reasoned legal opinion , prepare necessary legal documents, etc. basing on the given facts.

Jane has been living with Ally for the past 8 years. They have not gone through any formal marriage ceremony. The two have been blessed with 2 children, Peter (6) and Mary (3). Jane tells you that before they started living together, Ally (a Muslim) had agreed that he would change his religion so that the two would go through a formal Christian marriage ceremony. 8 years have passed now and, although the two children of the relationship were baptized and regularly attend Christian services with their mother, Ally is unwilling to change his religion. Jane feels that she has been cheated and that it’s an embarrassment to her parents, who are very devout Christians. They have a house on a plot of land which Jane had purchased before they started the relationship. About 90% of the construction costs for the house incurred by Jane since Ally has no formal employment . Jane wants to end the relationship  and have the house registered in the name of the two children. Advice Jane accordingly or Write a concise legal opinion to Jane

Scenario or problem questions in law are answered using a simple formula called FILAC or IRAC which stands for Facts, Issues, Law applicable/Rule, and Arguments/Application of the law to the facts and  Conclusion. To successfully answer the problem question in law you must arrange your answer in FILAC or IRAC order.

How to answer scenario/problem questions in law exams/bar exams, how to answer law school exam questions, How to Answer Law Exam Questions, how to answer law exam questions sample, sample law school exam questions and answers

Example of IRAC or FILAC exam answer

The following is how you can use IRAC or FILAC method to answer a scenario or problem question in a law exam.

Here you should state the material facts of the scenario given.

If the scenario is too long and for the purpose of the time you may skip this part and move on to the next step.

From the above example, the following facts may be extracted.

  • That Jane has been living with Ally for the past 8 years.
  • That they have not gone through any formal marriage ceremony.
  • That they have been blessed with 2 children, Peter (6) and Mary (3)
  • That they have a house on a plot of the land which you had purchased before they started the relationship. About 90% of the construction costs for the house are incurred by you.
  • Jane wants to end the relationship and have the house registered in the name of the two children

NB. When extracting your material facts from the question avoid unnecessary repetition and you should consider only facts that have legal implications.

After sorting your facts move on to frame your issues.

Issues refer to the things which require a legal response in your scenario. Avoid having a lot of issues. Focus on the major issues only. From the above example, the following issues may be raised.

Whether Jane can end the relationship?

  • Whether the house can be registered in the name of the two children?

Here you should list all statutes or case laws that are applicable to the issue raised.

For example from our issues, we can see that the issues are based on marriage and land respectively

Therefore you have to list all marriage and land laws that are applicable to your scenario. for Example Law of Marriage Act, The land Act, etc. When necessary show the relevant provisions.

Here is where you’re going to attend to the questions.

When addressing the issue your arguments must be backed up by the legal authority. You should go straight to the point. And provide a reasoned conclusion at the end. Consider the example below

The law that governs conjugal relationships in Tanzania mainland is the Law of Marriage Act [CAP 29 R.E 2009]. Under section 160 (1) its provides that where it is proved that a man and woman have lived together for two years or more, in such circumstances as to have acquired the reputation of being husband and wife, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that they were duly married. According to the case of  John Kirakwe V Iddi Siko 1989 TLR 215 (HC) the only three important elements to constitute a presumption of marriage are: (a) that the parties have cohabited for over two years; (b) that the parties have acquired a reputation of being husband and wife; (c) that there was no formal marriage ceremony between the said couple. In the given scenario, element (a) and (c) are clear in the sense that you have been living with Ally for 8 years and they have not gone through any formal marriage ceremony. Element (b) is uncertain. Its certainty is depending on how the neighbors perceived your relationship. Thus if neighbors perceived your cohabitation as husband and wife, then the marriage will be presumed. But if not, the presumption will be rebutted. However in the case of Hoka Mbofu V Pastory Mwijage 1983 TLR 286 (HC) it was stated that “Where there is no allegation of presumption of marriage, section 160 of the Law of Marriage Act, 1971 cannot be invoked merely on account of concubinage association.” Therefore to end the relationship, Jane must allege presumption of marriage so as the court to invoke section 160. She can do this by formal application (petition)  to the court seeking for dissolution of marriage or separation stating the evidence regarding the conduct and circumstances of their relationship. Even when court  rebut the presumption, in the case of  Hemed S Tamim V Renata Mashayo 1994 TLR 197 (CA)  it was stated that “where the parties have lived together as husband and wife in the course of which they acquire a house, despite the rebuttal of the presumption of marriage as provided for under section 160(1) of the Law of Marriage Act 1971, the courts have the power under section 160(2)of the Act to make consequential orders as in the dissolution of marriage or separation and division of matrimonial property acquired by the parties during their relationship are one such order;” Evidently, in light of the above discussion, Jane may end the relationship.

Repeat that process for every issue you have raised.

This is the last part of your question. This part contains the general response to the whole scenario.

For example, if you have been asked to give legal advice then this part should contain specific legal advice.

Also, you may put any further remarks.

Hope you have found this guide useful.

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Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro, a lawyer, Creative Writer and self-taught SEO expert has been a prominent author of law-related topics since 2017. Through hard work, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, Isack has successfully navigated the legal industry by providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information to 500,000+ individuals of all levels of understanding.

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How to Answer Law Essay Questions: Expert Tips & Strategies

Unlocking the secrets of law essay questions, mastering the art of answering law essay questions.

Law essay questions daunting, right approach preparation, tackle confidence precision. In this article, we will explore effective strategies for answering law essay questions, including analysis of key concepts, application of relevant case law, and structuring your response for maximum impact.

Understanding the Question

Before diving into your answer, it`s crucial to carefully read and analyze the essay question. Take note of the keywords and specific legal principles or cases mentioned. This initial step will guide you in formulating a focused and relevant response.

Structuring Answer

Structuring your answer is key to conveying your arguments coherently and logically. Consider using the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) method or a similar approach to organize your thoughts and present them in a clear and systematic manner.

Applying Relevant Case Law

Supporting your arguments with relevant case law demonstrates a deep understanding of legal principles and adds credibility to your response. Referencing landmark cases and their implications can strengthen your analysis and position your argument within the broader legal framework.

Analysis and Critical Thinking

Law essay questions often require high level Analysis and Critical Thinking. Take the time to deconstruct the question, consider various perspectives, and evaluate the implications of different legal interpretations. This depth of analysis can set your response apart and showcase your ability to engage with complex legal issues.

Effective Use of Legal Language

Mastery of legal language and terminology is essential for effectively communicating your arguments. Be concise and precise in your use of legal terms, ensuring that your language is accurate and reflects a deep understanding of legal principles.

Answering law essay questions is a nuanced skill that requires a combination of legal knowledge, critical thinking, and effective communication. By Understanding the Question, structuring response, referencing relevant case law, engaging rigorous analysis, craft compelling persuasive essays demonstrate expertise field law.

For further reading on this topic, consider the following resources:

  • “Legal Writing Plain English” Bryan A. Garner
  • “The Art Argument” Christopher Kee
  • “How Write Law Essays & Exams” S.I. Strong

Case Study: Landmark Legal Decision

In case Roe v. Wade , Supreme Court United States ruled constitutional right privacy extends woman`s decision abortion. This landmark decision has had far-reaching implications for reproductive rights and has been cited in numerous legal arguments and debates.

Statistics: Exam Success Rates

Legal contract: how to answer law essay questions, introduction.

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how to answer essay law questions

Guidance on answering problem and essay questions

This guidance is intended to help you approach problem questions in tort and to aid you in essay writing for coursework and exams.

Introduction

Problem questions in tort are set to test the extent to which you understand the legal principles on the topics being assessed. As you study the different topics you should remember that problems frequently contain one or more situations giving rise to a claim which may involve a number of potential claimants and defendants.  Questions usually require students to 'Advise X or 'Advise the parties’ on their rights or liabilities to enable them to: (1) show their knowledge of the law by identifying the legal issues behind the facts given in the scenario and; (2) demonstrate their understanding of the law by applying the relevant legal principles to the facts in the question and advising on the possible outcomes.

Essay questions in tort are one of the main ways of testing that you have a deeper understanding of the subject you are writing about. As you study the different topics you should remember that expressing new ideas in your own words really helps you to develop them and become confident in your understanding.  Also, whatever the level of your writing skills, you will find that writing essays helps you to write more effectively and develop communication skills.

Whether you are answering a problem or an essay question there are a number of ways in which to ensure that you obtain the full benefit of your knowledge in an exam .  Although there is rarely a 'right’ answer to a problem or an essay question, there is a right approach (see below). However, it is important at the outset to read through the exam paper very carefully to ensure that you know what each question is about before deciding which questions to attempt in the exam. The following two key points should help :

Unpack the questions

Read through the paper carefully to give you the best possible chance of understanding what each question is about. In the anxiety of exam conditions students sometimes read the questions hurriedly. This can lead to a failure to spot an issue in a question or completely misunderstand what a question is about.

Use time effectively

Time management is very important in an exam so any time spent reading the questions and planning your answers before you start will help you to:

  • maximise on your knowledge and understanding of the topics. Remember that even if you have less knowledge than you would like, you are still likely to write better answers if you take a more planned approach in the exam.
  • allocate your time prudently and avoid spending too much time on any one question

Dealing with a problem question

To enable you to spot what a problem question is about from a legal perspective you need to be clear about the key facts of each scenario and identify the parties involved. It is important to remember that advising a particular party will involve a consideration of any legal or policy based arguments which the other party/parties to the dispute may rely on.

As well as the defendant’s liability, you need to be alert to any facts in the question indicating that one of the defences that may be available to the defendant. Remember, a claimant may be able to establish a claim on the facts of the case but still fail obtain a remedy or have the amount of damages reduced because the defendant is able to establish a defence.

Once you have identified the legal issues and noted the relevant legal principles which apply to the questions you choose to answer, you should organise the layout of your answers before you start writing. In planning your answers you should isolate each of the separate issues in the questions you are attempting and deal with each of these issues in turn as you work through your exam paper.

When it comes to advising the parties on their potential rights and liabilities you should note that there is not always a conclusive answer.  This is because a firm conclusion about the outcome of a dispute often requires additional factual information or there is uncertainty in the law which makes the outcome impossible to predict.  However, there is a right approach to setting out your answer and students often find it helpful to use the IRAC mnemonic in adopting this approach.

I dentify: identify the legal issue/s raised by the problem

R ule: define and explain the legal rule and/or legal principle

A pply: apply the rule/legal principle to the facts in question

C onclusion: conclusion which sums up the advice to the party/parties

Approaching an essay question

The law of tort applies to a wide variety of different situations and an essay question will usually require an evaluation of the present state of the law which highlights any areas of ambiguity around the topic.  Because essay questions examine the extent to which a student understands the legal principles on the topic being assessed it is vital that the essay title is analysed.

Analysing an essay title

  • Identify key words
  • Content related words
  • Procedure related words – discuss, describe, outline, explain, compare, contrast

As well as enabling you to show your knowledge of the law by identifying the legal issues and policy considerations relating to the essay topic, your understanding is demonstrated by the discussion and argument you make in the essay.  Therefore, in setting out the key legal principles and the way in which a specific aspect of the law has developed, you should ensure that you use clear fluent sentences and organised paragraphs.

The essay should show how the law has been interpreted in subsequent cases and any statutory intervention in the area should be discussed. You should note that it is not always lack of knowledge that prevents students achieving the higher grades in essay questions; sometimes lack structure and arguments not adequately supported with discussion of the relevant authority or principle are the main problem.  Advance planning really helps to produce coherent and well-structured arguments and enables you to draw conclusions. Your concluding paragraph should directly answer the question set and be based on the central arguments explored in your essay. If you have followed an essay plan and have set out your arguments in a logical order there will be no need for a lengthy conclusion. 

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How are computers scoring STAAR essays? Texas superintendents, lawmaker want answers

Educators and legislators are concerned about transparency and a spike in high schoolers scoring zero points on written answers..

Texas superintendents want answers from the state education commissioner Mike Morath about...

By Talia Richman

11:10 AM on Feb 15, 2024 CST — Updated at 8:00 PM on Feb 15, 2024 CST

Texas superintendents — and at least one lawmaker — want answers from the state education commissioner about how computers are scoring STAAR essays.

The Texas Education Agency quietly debuted a new system for examining student answers on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, in December . Roughly three-quarters of written responses are scored by a computer rather than a person.

“This is surprising news to me as a member of the House Public Education Committee, as I do not recall ever receiving notice of this novel and experimental method for grading high-stakes, STAAR tests,” Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, wrote in a recent letter to Commissioner Mike Morath, which was also shared with The Dallas Morning News .

Superintendents across the state also were caught off guard until recently. Many school districts already are suing the state over changes to the academic accountability system that’s largely based on STAAR performance.

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Related: Computers scoring Texas students’ STAAR essay answers, state officials say

The News reported on the rollout of computer scoring Wednesday.

The use of computers to score essays “was never communicated to school districts; yet this seems to be an unprecedented change that a ‘heads up’ would be reasonably warranted,” HD Chambers, director of the Texas School Alliance, wrote to Morath in a letter shared with The News .

TEA spokesman Jake Kobersky said in a statement that the agency is developing a comprehensive presentation for educators, explaining the changes in detail and addressing outstanding questions.

He added that the agency alerted the House Public Education Committee in August 2022 that it was pursuing automated scoring.

The final bulletpoint on an 18-page slideshow read: “TEA is pursuing automation for scoring where appropriate to reduce costs while ensuring reliability. Full human scoring is not possible under item-level computer-adaptive (B), and full human scoring with no automation under the current system would require at least $15-20M more per year.”

The new scoring method rolled out amid a broader STAAR redesign. The revamped test — which launched last year — has a cap on multiple choice questions and essays at every grade level. State officials say it would cost millions more to have only humans score the test.

The “automated scoring engines” are programmed to emulate how humans would assess an essay, and they don’t learn beyond a single question. The computer determines how to score written answers after analyzing thousands of students’ responses that were previously scored by people.

Among the district leaders’ biggest concerns is a huge spike in low scores among high schoolers under the new system.

Roughly eight in 10 written responses on the most recent English II End of Course exam received zero points this fall.

For the spring test — the first iteration of the redesigned test, but scored only by humans — roughly a quarter of responses scored zero points in the same subject.

Members of the Texas School Alliance , which represents 46 districts, “examined their individual district results and found shockingly consistent scoring differences.”

Chris Rozunick, the director of the state’s assessment development division, previously told The News that she understands why people connect the spike in zeroes to the rollout of automated scoring based on the timing. But she insists that the two are unrelated.

Many students who take STAAR in the fall are “re-testers” who did not meet grade level on a previous test attempt. Spring testers tend to perform better, according to agency officials who were asked to explain the spike in low scores in the fall.

“It really is the population of testers much more than anything else,” Rozunick said.

Kobersky added that, under the previous STAAR design, a score of zero was reserved for “unscorable responses,” meaning the question was left blank or written in a nonsensical way. The redesigned test rubric allows for a zero both if a response is unscorable or if it’s the value of the response as determined by the scorer, he said.

Some district leaders requested the state education agency provide them images of students’ responses so that they could “better understand what led to the significant increase in the number of zeroes, and most importantly how to help students write their responses” to receive better scores.

“Each request has been denied,” Chambers wrote in his letter to Morath.

Kobersky said fall questions are not released because they can be reused for other tests.

TEA officials say a technical report, with a detailed overview of the system, will be available later this year.

STAAR scores are of tremendous importance to district leaders, families and communities. Schools are graded on the state’s academic accountability system largely based on how students perform on these standardized tests.

Related: What are Texas’ A-F school grades, and why do they matter?

“As with all aspects of the STAAR test and the A-F accountability system, it is important that there is transparency, accuracy and fairness in these high-stakes results,” Hinojosa wrote.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Talia Richman

Talia Richman , Staff writer . Talia is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News Education Lab. A Dallas native, she attended Richardson High School and graduated from the University of Maryland. She previously covered schools and City Hall for The Baltimore Sun.

With Micah Parsons and Jimmy Johnson chiming in, it’s best for Jerry Jones to listen

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Answering Law Questions: How to Craft Effective Responses to Law Essay & Problem

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Modified On Oct 10, 2023

Answering law questions, whether in essay or problem format, requires a structured and analytical approach that showcases your understanding of legal principles and your ability to apply them effectively. In this article, we’ll delve into comprehensive strategies to address both essay and problem questions in law, focusing on clarity, coherence, and critical thinking.

One major problem that new law university intakes encounter, is the fact that many of them usually have the mindset that where they are (university) will be the same with where they are coming from (secondary school); and because of this, they tend not to ask questions about how well to answer their law questions thus going on to use the traditional or general method and ending up not getting the expected result or even failing.

In this article, I am going to be expounding on the way of tackling law essay questions for the benefit of students. However, what I will be discussing is the general rule which is subject to what your specific tutor or lecturer may require from you.

So, it is advised that in as much as you learn how to generally answer law essay questions, you should pay attention and understand your lecturers so as to give him/her what their individual preferences are, like asking you to write a concised answer or be elaborate, or add this and remove that  etc.

PAGE CONTENTS

Differences between Law problem and Essay Questions

As you may know, Law problem questions are not the same as essay questions.  Problem questions are those law questions that tell live stories about the relationship between people and then require you to identify legal issues from those interactions, address the issues with relevant authorities and then to advise the parties on their different rights using the IRAC method.

It is important to note that a single problem question could have a series of different events which are based on different legal principles.

On the other hand, an essay question is a question which requires an individual to write on legal principles without using a particular format like the IRAC method.

Not minding the fact that you are not required to advise the parties or to use a particular method to answer your question, you have to have some mental steps at the back of your mind so as to make your work enticing and arranged before your tutor or Lecturer.

HOW TO ANSWER LAW PROBLEM QUESTIONS USING IRAC METHOD

Just like I explained at the beginning of this work, a  problem question is a question that test candidates by giving them stories/cases to solve.  Here, law students will be expected to draw out the issues of law in the story, as it relates to what they have been taught in the classroom.

Take for instance, a problem question on customary law might tell the story of a man who beats his wife because the custom provides for it. After explaining the story, students will be required to either provide the position of the law on the issues raised in the story or to advise the parties in the story.

The most acceptable way of answering law problem questions is through IRAC method. IRAC is actually the best because it makes it very easy for students to explain any legal principle with authorities in the simplest format. Below are the things you must know about IRAC method of answering law questions.

Meaning of IRAC

The word “IRAC” is an acronym which stands for:

  • Rule of law – R
  • Application – A
  • Conclusion – C

Note that if you must answer problem questions using this format, you must have this acronym at the back of your mind. If you miss any step, then you are getting the whole question wrong.

Now, to make sure that you understand the steps listed above, i will take my time to explain what you are supposed to do in every step. Remember, this is to teach you how to answer law problem question using IRAC method.

Your first concern is to determine the issue or issues implicated in the question. This determination involves asking yourself, what is the problem sought to be addressed in the case?

Example: What is the liability of a master regarding tort committed by his servant while engaged in a conduct expressly prohibited by the master?

The importance of accurate identification of the issue(s) is that it narrows your response to the gist of the question.

Once you accomplish this goal, you will know automatically that there is no need to state, for instance, that “the tort borders on vicarious liability” or for you to describe general elements of the tort in question.

Your task is to focus only on those elements or information that substantively (not tangentially) speak to the issue(s) you have successfully identified. Relevance is the key here. Recall my admonition, “ the more you write, the more you expose your ignorance .”

Note that you are not expected to call the names of parties in the story in the issues because they are issues for determination in law. You can only mention the names of parties in the story or case given to you when you reach third stage which is  APPLICATION

RULE OF LAW

The “R” or Rule (rule of law) in IRAC is also called “reasoning.” This is because the applicable rule of law is reasoned from the facts of the case. As you think through the problems presented, aided by the issue you have successfully identified, the rule will emerge. What rule of law will guide the court in reaching a correct decision, assuming the same facts?

This is the question that you need to ask your self; it is also the question that you need to address. A rule of law in vicarious liability, for instance, is that “ a master is liable for the acts of his servant, even when expressly prohibited, so long as the servant acted within the scope of his employment. ”

Under the rule of law, students are expected to cite their authorities. Authorities here can be cases, statutes, dictum of judges, articles which are related to the issue in question. It is very important that you cite authorities because that is what will back up the rule of law and legal principles in the case.

APPLICATION:

This is where you apply the rule of law to the issue(s) you have raised. By doing this, you are applying the rule of law to the actual story in the problem question given to you. In the application, you are expected to pick those authorities and rules of law that concerns the issues raised and apply them to the matter effectively.

Always pay attention to exception(s) to the general rule, if any, and clearly outline/justify any distinctions that might be helpful to your argument. By constantly reminding yourself of the issue(s), you are bound to succeed in steering yourself away from irrelevance.

A great analysis is targeted to the issue(s) identified and is judged by the degree of focus/precision as well as the presentation (language/expressions used in articulating your argument).

Finally, the  conclusion (“C”) . A few sentences would suffice to wrap up your discussion. Briefly state the outcome of your analysis. Where the question requires that you advise the parties, the conclusion is the best place to do that.

Simply tell each of the parties their rights and persuade them to sue the when the need be. Here, you can also rebuke the party in default in the case and tell him why he/she is at fault.

If you are a student and you don’t know anything about the law of defamation, don’t worry. Just keep reading. You will still be able to understand the steps taken in every section.

Sample of a law problem question answered using IRAC method

The Daily Trumpeter, a popular Newspaper in Enugu recently published a report of the proceedings of the Enugu State High Court in a land case between Chief Okoto and Barrister Akuepue under the caption ‘Judge calls a popular Enugu Lawyer: ‘A Crook and a Land Speculator”.

In the article, the newspaper reporter, Ade also stated thet Nigerian lawyers are in the habit of using their knowledge of the law to deprive innocent ‘laymen’ of their land. Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama, another popular lawyer based in Enugu have sepaprately sued Joe, the edito of The Daily Trumpeter and Ade for publication.

Issue 1:  Whether Newspaper Publishers can be liable for publishing court/tribunal proceedings

Issue 2:  What must one prove in order for his defense of ‘fair comment’ to be successful

Issue 3:  What is the legal position on defamation of a class or a group of person

RULE OF LAW:

Defamation refers to the publication of a statement which is calculated to injure a person and cause right-thinking members of the society to shun or avoid him, or even cause them to hate him and also convey an imputation on him which is injurious to his office, trade or profession –  s.137 Enugu State Torts law, cap 150 2004(which shall hereinafter be called ESTL), Sketch v. Ajagbemokeferi.

People are thus warned against idle gossip which may likely impugn another person when communicated to a third party. Defamation may either be in the form of libel which is in a permanent form such as newspaper publication, television or radio broadcasts; or otherwise in slander which has a transient nature usually verbalized or through gesticulations conveying a defamatory connotation.

For an action in defamation to succeed, the following essential elements must be proved, as a thing of necessity:

The words complained of must be defamatory:

If right-thinking people of sane minds would think less of an individual or shun and avoid him due to a statement, then this element may be said to have been successfully proved.

Defamatory words must refer to the plaintiff:

It is not sufficient that the defamatory statement described a person merely by his name  Akintla v. Anyiam . It is enough where he is identified by his initials, post, Photograph, or even his office –  Dafe v. Teswinor.

The words complained of must be published:

It has been held in a vast litany of cases that it is not the publication of defamatory statement but the publication that grounds a cause of action. In fact, in  Pullman v. Hill , Lord Esher, Master of the Rolls said thus ‘‘ Publication is the making known of the defamatory matter after it has been written to such person other than the person to whom it is written’’  It therefore follows that publication in itself is what grounds a cause of action-  s. 141 ESTL .

Also, communication to the plaintiff himself cannot ground a cause of action for the purposes of determining liability in defamation because defamation is injury to ones reputation and protects not an individual’s opinion of himself but the estimation in which others hold him – Okotcha v. Olumese.

However, even if a person has been alleged to have defamed another, there is an array of defenses open to him.  Such defenses are:

  • Unintentional Defamation
  • Innocent dissemination
  • Justification( or truth) – s. 163 ESTL
  • Volenti Non fit injuria – Chapman v.
  • Fair comment- s. 194(1) ESTL

Under the defenses of  privilege , we have what is known as absolute privileges and also qualified privileges. Circumstances under which the defense of qualified privilege can arise are varied but for the purposes of our case, we have an occasion known as Statements made in performance of a legal, moral or social duty –  s.178 ESTL .

In the connection above, for such an occasion to arise, the person giving out information which is alleged to contain defamatory statements must have a duty to give such information on grounds of public policy and also the party receiving such information, that is, the person to whom the matter is published to must have a corresponding duty of receiving such information.

Perhaps, this is the reason the law admits that radio and television broadcasters as well as Newspaper Publishers and Proprietors are covered by the said defense –  NTA v. Babatope . It is also the legal position, pursuant to  s.185 (1)  that qualified privilege very much applies to those who publish reports of judicial proceedings. However, such broadcasters or publishers must be very careful enough to give reports of what actually took place in court, not necessarily a verbatim report of the proceedings but at least an abridged or condensed report will be privileged, provided that it gives a fair, accurate and correct impression of what transpired.

It clearly and necessarily follows that when such reports are substantially inaccurate, such a report will lose the protective cloak of this defense. Thus, in Omo-Osagie v, Okutobo, a report of a newspaper of certain court proceedings bore the caption, ‘‘Chief Justice Tells a Teacher: ‘ You are a Bad Woman’.

However, those words were never used by the Judge, and the courts held that such a newspaper report had lost the defense of qualified privilege. The defense of fair comment stated above, consists of criticisms of matters of public interest in the form of comments, by citizens upon true facts, such comments being honestly made without malice –  s.194(1) Enugu State Torts law, cap 150 2004.

In order for this defense to avail a person, the following requirements must be proved to the satisfaction of the courts trying the issue:

The Matter commented on must be of Public Interest:

The matter must be one of general concern as to affect the generality of the population at large- London Artists Ltd. v. Littler. Thus issues of land fraud by legal practitioners may fall for issues of public interest.

The Comment must be an expression of Opinion not an assertion of fact:

It is noteworthy that the defense of fair comment consists of two things: a set of facts which must be true and the commentator’s opinion on those facts- s.  194(1)  (a). The distinction between a comment and a fact, however, depends on the merits of each case.

The Comment must be Honest- s.  194(1)(c)  So long as a commentator honestly expressed his view, it is immaterial that he used excessively strong language o that people read all sorts of innuendoes into it, if he made the comment honestly, he has nothing at all to fear. However, criticisms cannot be used as a cloak for an attack, or for personal imputations on the plaintiff not arising out of the subject matter not based on the facts.

The Comment must be devoid of Malice-  s.195 ESTL  Malice is a complete bar to a defense of fair comment. Malice means making abuse of the occasion for some indirect purpose –  Bakare v. Ibrahim.

When a class or group of persons i.e. lawyers, teachers, doctors etc, are defamed, no individual member of the class is entitled to bring action upon grounds that he has been defamed save only when the class is so small or so ascertainable that what is said of the class is necessarily said of each and every member of it, or if the circumstances of the case show that the plaintiff was singled out and defamed –  Knuppfer v. London Express Newspaper Ltd.

Thus, in  Zik Enterprises ltd. V. Awolowo , an article which contained defamatory statements against the Action Group was regarded by the court not to refer to the plaintiff but to the Action Group as a political party since it was a large group and the plaintiff could not show circumstances which proved that he was singled out.

APPLICATION

It seems that Daily Trumpeter will not escape liability if the report they gave of the court proceedings was grossly inaccurate or did not give a correct impression of what actually transpired therein.

Also, Ade seems to have overstepped the boundaries of fair comment by making such a comment, he seems to have made a statement of fact because saying that someone is in the habit of doing something is as much as imputing a disreputable motive upon him which is very much actionable in law. Hence the cloak of fair comment may no longer protect.

Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama by bringing action against Ade seem to be oblivious of the applicable guiding principles in the circumstance. In this connection, a defamatory statement against Nigerian lawyers as a whole is too large a group for the purposes of an action in defamation, unless, if they can show that they were singled out and defamed. They may be going on a wild goose chase.

Joe : You will only escape liability if what you said happened in court was accurate, otherwise, you will fall for liability. Ade: It is true you have overstepped the bounds of fair comment; however you may still escape liability under the principles of defamation of a class or group.

Barrister Akuepue and Barrister Ikpeama : You both can only bring action against Ade and Joe should what Joe reported about the proceedings be inaccurate. With respect to Ade although he has lost the defense of fair comment, he can still be liable for publishing what Joe reported, only the will you have a cause of action against him.

Four things to note when answering law questions

Even though IRAC method of answer law problem questions is generally acceptable, some lecturers make little changes to the way they want their questions to be answered.

For instance, some lecturers posit that after outlining your issues, you must tackle them one after the other. What that means is that, you are expected to apply IRAC in the different issues ( One after the other ).

Well, it is impossible for me to cover all the different styles lecturers like. So, I enjoin you to always attend classes. By attending classes, you will know the best method to answer your law problem questions.

It will surprise you to know that some lecturers don’t even like their questions to be answered using IRAC. So you see, you must know what every lecturer wants.

Time is a very important factor:

To perform very well as a law student, you must have it in mind that time is very important. You have to be time conscious because you have only but 2:30 minutes to answer all the questions you were given. Most times, students are expected to answer at least 3 questions in law examinations.

So you must learn to manage your time. If you do not manage your time properly, you will definitely not finish answering your questions.

Always cite your authorities with red pen:

One of the pivotal information that has never been skipped in all the tutorials I have read on how to answer law problem question is the citing of authorities.

The importance of using a red pen when citing authorities in law examinations cannot be over emphasized. The reason is because, it makes it easy for anyone who is assigned to mark your examination script.

So, in other not to jeopardize your chance of success in any law exam, you should use red pen to cite your authorities. Your authorities here may include: cases, names of judges, articles, statutes, dictums etc.

Dive detailed information about the issues raised in every case:

Most times, lecturers prefer giving more marks to students who were able to give them detailed information about the question than students who just answered the question.

For sure, if you answer the question correctly you will definitely be given the mark you deserve. But if you give more details, you will likely earn more marks.

Take for instance, you might be asked to explain the term “ Nigeria legal system “. If you go ahead to just define it and move to the next question, you won’t even get your full marks there. To get your full marks, you must also highlight the  features of Nigerian legal systems  and any other subtopic in the topic. Though, you are not expected to go too deep. Just make sure you give detailed information. Some lecturers love it.

Okay! for now, this is all i can disclose on this topic (How to answer law problem question). Like i have rightly mentioned, it is important to always attend classes because the way a particular lecturer will want his/her problem question to be answered might be different from the way another lecturer wants it.

That notwithstanding, i have explained the most generally accepted way of answering law question using IRAC method above.  So, if you have not written law examination before, you can safely understand the IRAC method as i explained it. Hope this article was helpful? Do let me know if you have any question or confusion as to how to answer law problem question using IRAC method. I will be glad to help.

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Q: Tenant in Santa Monica trying to understand a landlord claim to a no pet policy and a potential ESA solution.

I'm a tenant in an apartment in Santa Monica. The lease we signed says "no dogs, cats or other aniamls shall be kept in premises except with the Lessor's prior consent". My interpretation was they wanted a heads up if you were to get a pet. We recently went to adopt a dog and after requesting approval were informed it was a pet free building and it was not up for discussion. The landlord went on to say they market the building as pet free, but this was never communicated to us, or any of our neighboring tenants. In addition, the lease says "Pet Deposit: $0" and nowhere in the lease or unit positing did it ever say pet free. The question is, given the communications with the landlord and the lease, do they have any recourse if we decide to register the dog as an emotional support animal as perscribed by a professional? Given that it wont be official for 30 days, is there anything they can do? Had we been communicated this upfront, we likely would've found somewhere else to live.

James L. Arrasmith

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A: Based on the information provided, it seems the landlord's "no pet" policy is on shaky ground since your lease states pets are allowed with prior consent, mentions a $0 pet deposit, and does not clearly indicate the building is marketed as pet-free. The landlord claiming it is a pet-free building after you signed the lease seems questionable. As for registering the dog as an emotional support animal (ESA), federal and California fair housing laws provide protections for ESA owners against "no pet" policies. Specifically: • ESAs must be allowed as a reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, despite a "no pets" rule. • Landlords cannot charge deposits or fees for ESAs. • Landlords can request verification from a licensed professional that the tenant has a disability and the ESA provides needed emotional support. Given what seems to be a poorly communicated and possibly improper blanket "no pet" policy to begin with, if you obtain proper documentation that the ESA is necessary due to a disability, the landlord would have very limited recourse to stop you from keeping the dog in your unit. That said, some landlords attempt unlawful threats or harassment. Consulting a local tenant rights group can help ensure you follow proper ESA documentation procedures and understand protections in Santa Monica. But the law is on your side regarding ESAs if you have supporting medical documentation.

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What is Presidents Day and how is it celebrated? What to know about the federal holiday

Many will have a day off on monday in honor of presidents day. consumers may take advantage of retail sales that proliferate on the federal holiday, but here's what to know about the history of it..

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Presidents Day is fast approaching, which may signal to many a relaxing three-day weekend and plenty of holiday sales and bargains .

But next to Independence Day, there may not exist another American holiday that is quite so patriotic.

While Presidents Day has come to be a commemoration of all the nation's 46 chief executives, both past and present, it wasn't always so broad . When it first came into existence – long before it was even federally recognized – the holiday was meant to celebrate just one man: George Washington.

How has the day grown from a simple celebration of the birthday of the first president of the United States? And why are we seeing all these ads for car and furniture sales on TV?

Here's what to know about Presidents Day and how it came to be:

When is Presidents Day 2024?

This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19.

The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of every February because of a bill signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Taking effect three years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill mandated that three holidays – Memorial Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day – occur on Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and add long weekends to the federal calendar, according to Britannica .

Other holidays, including Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day , were also established to be celebrated on Mondays when they were first observed.

However, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11 in 1978 and continues to be commemorated on that day.

What does Presidents Day commemorate?

Presidents Day was initially established in 1879 to celebrate the birthday of the nation's first president, George Washington. In fact, the holiday was simply called Washington's Birthday, which is still how the federal government refers to it, the Department of State explains .

Following the death of the venerated American Revolution leader in 1799, Feb. 22, widely believed to be Washington's date of birth , became a perennial day of remembrance, according to History.com .

The day remained an unofficial observance for much of the 1800s until Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed that it become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, according to History.com.

While initially being recognized only in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. The first to celebrate the life of an individual American, Washington's Birthday was at the time one of only five federally-recognized holidays – the others being Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

However, most Americans today likely don't view the federal holiday as a commemoration of just one specific president. Presidents Day has since come to represent a day to recognize and celebrate all of the United States' commanders-in-chief, according to the U.S. Department of State .

When the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971, a provision was included to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's on Feb. 12, according to History.com. Because the new annual date always fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Americans believed the day was intended to honor both presidents.

Interestingly, advertisers may have played a part in the shift to "Presidents Day."

Many businesses jumped at the opportunity to use the three-day weekend as a means to draw customers with Presidents Day sales and bargain at stores across the country, according to History.com.

How is the holiday celebrated?

Because Presidents Day is a federal holiday , most federal workers will have the day off .

Part of the reason Johnson made the day a uniform holiday was so Americans had a long weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," he wrote. As such, places like the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – which bears the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are bound to attract plenty of tourists.

Similar to Independence Day, the holiday is also viewed as a patriotic celebration . As opposed to July, February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks, but reenactments, parades and other ceremonies are sure to take place in cities across the U.S.

Presidential places abound across the U.S.

Opinions on current and recent presidents may leave Americans divided, but we apparently love our leaders of old enough to name a lot of places after them.

In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau pulled information from its databases showcasing presidential geographic facts about the nation's cities and states.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the census data shows that as of 2020 , the U.S. is home to plenty of cities, counties and towns bearing presidential names. Specifically:

  • 94 places are named "Washington."
  • 72 places are named "Lincoln."
  • 67 places are named for Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans to march along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Contributing: Clare Mulroy

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

You have questions about Wisconsin's new election maps and how they affect you? We have answers.

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A months-long fight over Wisconsin's new legislative maps — and a years-long fight over the state's gerrymandering — ended Monday when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed his proposal into law , offering the first chance for Democrats to regain power in more than a decade.

Evers' signature marks the end of assured Republican dominance in the state Legislature. The governor's maps will replace the maps that the new liberal majority on the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in December .

But there's still quite a bit up in the air.

New lawmakers might run in reshaped districts, and others could leave. Control of the Legislature could be up for grabs, and big policy changes could happen as a result.

Here's what we know about what the law means, and what we don't know yet:

So, is this it? Are these maps really official?

Yes. The maps could be challenged in court but they're in state law for now.

Evers said the maps would take effect immediately, though he will ask the state Supreme Court to clarify that the maps will be in place for upcoming special and recall elections.

The Legislature passed Evers' proposal just as the court was poised to implement one of several proposals . The court had said it would step in if Republican lawmakers and Evers couldn't agree on new maps.

Now that they have, it's unlikely the court would select a different map unless they had problems with Evers' proposal. The two consultants the court hired considered two of the submissions to be "partisan gerrymanders," but Evers' was not one of them.

More: More Wisconsin Republicans than Democrats backed Gov. Tony Evers' legislative election maps. What explains the role reversal?

What does this mean in the big picture?

The new maps present a huge opportunity for Democrats to gain more power in the Legislature, after being deep in the minority under maps that produced large Republican majorities.

It's far from certain that Democrats will win control in one or both chambers. But Evers' maps create a much more competitive landscape for both parties to try to win over voters.

If control of the Legislature does shift, Democrats could pass policies like legalizing marijuana , increasing the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid — ideas that Republicans have historically rejected.

Former Democratic lawmakers also said tighter margins in the Legislature would require more bipartisanship and compromise to get things done.

More: A game-changing moment for Wisconsin Democrats. New maps put legislative majorities within reach

When do the new maps take effect?

If the court does clarify that the maps will be in place for upcoming elections, they could be used fairly soon.

Evers said he hopes the court responds quickly so he can order a special election to fill a vacant Milwaukee Senate seat. Two Democratic state representatives have launched campaigns to take the place of former state Sen. Lena Taylor, who is now a Milwaukee County judge.

The maps could also be in place for a recall effort against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos . Democrats initially worried Republicans were trying to protect Vos from that effort by not putting the maps into effect until November. Evers said it did not matter to him and thought the new maps should be in place for any election.

Barring any future challenges, the maps will certainly be in place when many Wisconsin voters choose their state representatives and senators in November, and for the August primary to narrow down those candidates.

What elected offices do they apply to?

The new "maps" refer to one map for state Assembly districts, and another new map for state Senate districts. Those are the two chambers that make up the state Legislature.

There's another case before the state Supreme Court that challenges the state's congressional maps . The court hasn't said whether it will take up that lawsuit, and there would be a very tight turnaround to draw new U.S. House districts.

How do I know if my legislators will change?

Depending where you live, your state legislators could change. Your address might be in a reshaped district. Your current lawmaker could be placed in a district with another incumbent, and if they run against each other, one could leave the Legislature. Fresh faces might run in new districts, especially those created in Wisconsin's more populous cities.

Bottom line: You should check what district you're in when elections roll around this fall . The Journal Sentinel analyzed what the new districts look like, so you can get a rough idea of what district your town, city or village will be part of.

To get a more precise answer, you can enter your address into the Legislature's website to find your senator and representative. The website still has the old maps, but it should eventually update to the new ones.

More: See Wisconsin's new state legislative maps signed by Gov. Tony Evers

Can someone still sue to get rid of the new maps? 

It's a possibility. No one has announced they plan to challenge the maps, but it's not entirely out of the question, either.

Vos has said he doesn't believe the maps would be challenged and is "supremely confident that that is the map that we will run on in November, whether I like it or not."

More: Confused by Wisconsin redistricting terms? Here's what they mean.

Rick Esenberg, president and chief counsel of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, told CBS 58 he doubts anyone will end up suing over the new maps. But if someone brought forward a theory to sue on, the conservative law firm might consider it, he said.

Democratic Rep. LaKeshia Myers, who is running in the special Senate election, said she's concerned that Evers' map doesn't preserve communities of interest and meet Voting Rights Act requirements. The consultants said none of the maps, including Evers', had issues under that federal law.

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  26. What is Presidents Day? Is it a federal holiday? Everything to know

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