How to Brief a Case: The IRAC Method
|What a student does in the study of law can be summed up in four letters, IRAC. Whether a student is writing an exam, writing a paper for legal writing class, or discussing it with a professor armed with the Socratic Method, these four letters form the backbone of legal education. So, what do they stand for?|
IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. Every law student learns those four letters in either his first week of class, or sometimes even before class starts. Let’s take each one, one at a time.
ISSUE – Every case a student reads entails a court ruling on one issue, if not many issues, raised by the parties, typically on appeal. The issue statement, for better or worse, typically begins with the word “whether.” By example, “whether the defendant breached the contract.” And the issue statement typically ends with facts particular to the case and is marked off by the word “where.” By example, “whether the defendant breached the contract where it failed to deliver 100 pairs of shoes by November 27, 2018.”
I say for better or worse regarding the shape the issue statement usually takes, because while it may be a shape rooted in centuries of tradition, it is antiquated and awkward. To form a better issue statement, dump the words “whether” and “where,” and make the issue statement into a question. By example, “Did the defendant breach the contract by failing to deliver 100 pairs of shoes by November 27, 2018?”
So, why is it better to form the issue statement as a question? There is one simple answer to that. The court is considering a question and providing an answer. It cannot provide an answer to an issue if that issue does not present a question. In other words, break through the legal custom that defies logic. Please at least try to shape your issue in this manner. You’ll be rebelling against tradition, but tradition is never a strong argument for preserving the status quo.
Now that you know how to form an issue statement, it is important to know that you will only go as far in the study of law as your issue statement takes you. If you cannot properly frame the issue the court is considering, you cannot properly analyze the court’s decision, or similar fact patterns you face in the future. And as a future practitioner, you can cleverly craft narrower or broader issue statements to both analogize and distinguish your client’s case from precedent.
RULE – Once you have framed your issue, you have to figure out what rule to apply to that issue. Taking our breach of contract issue, the rule of law may be something like, “it is a breach of contract where a party fails to perform under the terms of the contract.” In a case, a rule like this will come with citation to statutes, cases, or a combination of both.
You see, the legal system is based on a system called stare decisis, which in lay terms means, relying on old and previously examined principles and applying them to future factual scenarios. So, the court will reference a principle already considered, unless the case is one of first-impression, and will begin its analysis there.
The rule is probably the easiest piece of the IRAC puzzle. But it is the piece that you will have to memorize in law school if you want to perform well on exams. Next consider the analysis.
ANALYSIS – Once you have your rule, you have to apply the facts to that rule. And here in lies your analysis. Analysis, by far, is where more law students lose points on exams than any other portion of IRAC. To avoid the same downfall, we offer the following tip. If you were meant to include conclusory statements in your analysis section, it would be called IRA instead of IRAC. But it’s not. It’s called IRAC. So avoid premature conclusion and stick to the analysis.
Another hair on a professor’s arm will stand on end with each piece of analysis you provide. The analysis will come in the form of comparing and contrasting the facts you face with the facts of other cases you have encountered. By example, perhaps another case you read held that it is not a breach of contract where the defendant substantially performs under the terms of the contract. So, perhaps you could argue that in your fact pattern the defendant delivered 75% of the shoes just one week later than the deadline and, therefore, there was no breach. But you always have to remember to argue the other side. That is what separates a great grade on an exam from a poor grade. Remember, attorneys pick their sides, not based on right or wrong, but based on the side their client falls on. One day you will be required to argue breach. Another day you will have to argue no breach. In the study of law, you do not get to choose.
So, perhaps you could argue that substantial compliance requires absolute compliance with a deadline, which your fact pattern lacked. Whatever the case may be, do not forget to argue both sides. Even if you do not believe the argument would carry the day. You have to present it.
You have to put forth a complete analysis that uses every fact you are given. Professors do not include facts as red herrings. They may present them so you can analyze and dismiss them. But they do not include facts so that you can ignore them. And in light of that statement, here is another tip. If by the end of your analysis you have not used every fact in the fact pattern, you have not finished your analysis.
Underline the facts. Put checkmarks near them once you have used them. And find a way to use every fact. Let your rule be your guide. Find a way to make each fact impact how the rule applies.
CONCLUSION – The conclusion is the least important part of IRAC. Here’s why. The conclusion is a function of how the judge feels that day. You can make the same argument to 10 different judges and you will not get the same results 10 times. You just won’t. As long as your analysis is complete, it does not matter how you conclude, so long as your conclusion has a logical basis evidenced by your analysis. The best way to tackle the conclusion is to simply explain why you think one avenue of the analysis is the more appropriate result versus any other avenue. If you have written a thorough analysis section, you will basically be pointing to an argument you already made. Maybe it’s a breach. Maybe it’s not a breach. Just identify what you believe is the strongest argument. You’ll come out fine. The points to be had are in the analysis, not in the conclusion. Welcome to the study of business law. IRAC will follow you throughout your career. Apply it methodically. And remember that for an A grade, you have to focus on the A (Analysis) in IRAC.
How to Brief a Case: The IRAC Method
You need to write an original 10-page paper (not counting the cover page and reference page), typed, double spaced and 12 point font. You cannot use a paper you or someone else has already written for another course for this project.
Your paper should have an original thesis statement and be supported by references to statutes, court case decisions or administrative law, facts, statistics, etc. Since this is a business law class focus on the legal aspects of your topic. You may use the IRAC method but are not required to do so if another form of organization is more appropriate
You may choose any topic listed on the course syllabus. Some good topics given the current legal or regulatory environment are:
Reviewing enforcement sites of the SEC, EEOC, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Federal Trade Commission, the Economist, Justice Department or Federal Communications Commission, Bloomberg/Businessweek magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or WestlawNext may help give you ideas.
Your 10 page term paper must be posted in Blackboard by the due date to receive credit. If you finish early, you may send me a draft and I will give you feedback to let you know if you are on the right track. In the subject line of your email state Acct 320 or 639 Business Law for Accountants Term Paper.
I have attached a sample paper which you can use to help you understand the format of an APA 7 college paper including the cover page, body with in-text citations (at least one per paragraph and three to four paragraphs per page) and a reference page (with at least 5 high quality references). You do not need to do an abstract at the beginning of the paper.
The role of business entities in promoting social justice with respect to racial and or gender bias in the legal system.
How to Brief a Case: The IRAC Method
Term Paper Grading Criteria
|Item #||Grading Criteria Description||Weight %|
|1||Cover page with thesis title, student name, student id number, course name and section, date and instructor name. (no abstract)||5|
|2||Introductory paragraph with high quality thesis statement.||10|
|3||In-text citations (at least one per paragraph and three to four paragraphs per page.) These map the references from your reference page to where the ideas are used in the paper. Every reference on the reference page must have at least one in-text citation.||10|
|4||When you submit your paper in Blackboard it will be processed through Safe Assign which is a plagiarism checker similar to Turnitin. The score should be less than 35% or I will deduct points. A term paper is a synthesis of your original scholarly thoughts and ideas from other sources. Do not use too many quotes or your score will be larger than 35%.||10|
|5||Organization (the body of your paper must be at least 10 pages with a cover page and reference page using 12 point Times Roman font size)||10|
|6||Spelling and grammar||10|
|7||Support for your ideas such as fact, figures, statistics, examples, cases, studies and other authoritative references.||15|
|8||Originality of your ideas.||10|
|10||Reference page (you must have at least 5 high quality sources correctly cited in APA format.) One must be from a law school journal, one from a website, one from a book, one from a magazine or newspaper and one from a government publication other than a website. Primary sources are preferred (not sources such as Wikipedia, Investopedia, Qura, etc.)||10|