How to use IRAC to answer a problem-based question in law?

frustrationI wanted to share an example of how the IRAC methodology can be used in law subjects to answer a problem-based question. I have provided this example to a couple of classes I have taught at the University of Southern Queensland and students always seem to find it useful, so I thought I’d share it with the wider world.

The IRAC methodology is an acronym for Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion. Other variants of the format include ILAC (Issue, Law, Application and Conclusion) and ISAACS, which the Queensland University of Technology use with their law students. ISAACS stands for: identify the issue, state the law, provide an authority for the law, apply the law to the facts, conclude the issue, repeat for others issues and then synthesise an overall conclusion

In my experience, the part that students frequently struggle with is the application section. Unfortunately, is the most important component. A good application section is often the difference between a student receiving a high mark or an average mark in an assessment. This is because the application section is where a student is supposed to demonstrate their understanding of the law by articulating why a particular law/rule/principle (identified in the rule/law section) could or ought to apply in the present fact scenario. If a case, for example, is being relied upon, the student needs to state explicitly how the previously decided case would apply in the present scenario (if the matter was to come before the courts). This argument is strengthened by addressing the factual similarities (or differences) between the cases and using analogical reasoning to support their conclusion that the previously decided case is likely (or unlikely) to apply in the present case. [Note the qualifiers ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’ – you cannot say that a court is 100% going to accept your argument. Something may be ‘very likely’ but this is not the same as ‘will’].

In the attached example below, I demonstrate how the rule and application section can be blended to aid readability and word count. This idea of colour coding the various sentences was one I picked up while teaching at QUT and adapted for a subject at USQ.

One word of caution: some topic examiners/ co-ordinators/ assessors may want you to lay out your IRAC answers differently. Always follow their instructions. I have heard from a student that in a previous subject they were told to structure their IRAC answers as follows [bold indicates subheadings]:

  • Issue 1
  • Issue 2
  • Issue 3 etc
  • Law relating to issue 1
  • Law relating to issue 2
  • Law relating to issue 3
  • Applying the law to the facts for issue 1
  • Applying the law to the facts for issue 2
  • Applying the law to the facts for issue 3
  • Conclusion re issue 1
  • Conclusion re issue 2
  • Conclusion re issue 3
If you have been asked to structure your answer as above, then please do so. However, the generally accepted structure for a problem-based question using the IRAC methodology goes like this:
Issue 1
  • Identification of issue 1
  • Law relating to issue 1
  • Application of law to the facts for issue 1
  • Conclusion of issue 1.
Issue 2
  • Identification of issue 2
  • Law relating to issue 2
  • Application of law to the facts for issue 2
  • Conclusion of issue 2.
Issue 3
  • Identification of issue 3
  • Law relating to issue 3
  • Application of law to the facts for issue 3
  • Conclusion of issue 3.

In my opinion, the second structure is easier to follow from the reader’s perspective as it keeps all the relevant information together. This means less repetition and saving precious, precious words. An argument that flows better is going to be more persuasive.

I hope you find this as useful as some of my students have. If so, please share it. Approaching problem-based legal questions in a systematic way, as set out in the IRAC method, is an important skill for all law students and students taking law subjects as a part of another degree.
Feel free to post any questions below.

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