Meet your new law school friends: Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion (IRAC). Start out on the right foot together with these examples and tips for writing with IRAC.
If you think writing stops when you graduate from college, think again. Those general education credits you took all those semesters ago for English will come in handy, especially if you want to pursue law.
Don’t worry. You probably won’t be asked to write a persuasive essay or analyze another TED Talk video for ethos, pathos, and logos. With the popularity of online law school on the rise, you may even be able to dodge the Socratic method experience. But there is something called the IRAC method that aspiring law school students should prepare to learn.
Whether you’re considering law school, taking classes, or about to graduate and join a firm, IRAC is going to crop up one way or another in the legal world.
Note: CRAC (Conclusion, Rule, Application, Conclusion) or CREAC (Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Application, Conclusion) are other forms of IRAC, but the elements are the same.
What Does IRAC Stand For?
‘Issue’ refers to the legal matter at hand. Clearly define what it is, the parties involved, and provide sufficient background.
This element represents the legal rule(s) that apply in the case being discussed.
This is where you apply the rule of law to the facts of the case. The “answer” or explanation of the relevant laws and case laws should be included in your analysis. It doesn’t hurt to include several as long as they’re applicable.
The conclusion is a summary of your legal analysis. Remember to end on a strong note while sticking to the facts.
Considerations When Using the IRAC Method
We’ll explore each of these in more detail. But first, here are some elements to consider about legal writing:
- Students tend to let their thoughts run away with them or cut their thoughts short. Be brief. If a sentence isn’t a clarifying detail, then it probably shouldn’t be included.
- Remember that you want to be a lawyer, not a novelist. Stick to the facts, plain and simple, short, and to the point. If there’s no point, it’s of no use.
- Who, what, when, where, why, and how are always relevant when writing legal memos and briefs. And even though they’re not technically included in IRAC, they’re just as important.
- Always double check your facts. There’s a reason why “fact-checker” is a job title. Unfortunately, not all lawyers have that luxury, especially when you’re just beginning to dip your toes into the sea of laws and legal terms. Read and reread your documents thoroughly before submitting them.
- While you’re at it, check for grammar and punctuation errors, too. Just like knowing the difference between an intentional tort and negligence is important, spelling and syntax are also essential.
The Issue: Put it on the Table
When you hand in a memo, the first thing your reader should see is the question you’re trying to answer. That question should be the issue you’re going to be addressing, and your answer needs to cover all the main legal aspects of the problem. A good tip is never to use specific names. Keep it as general as possible.
An easy guide to follow might look something like this:
Under [blank one] law, [blank two] when [blank three]?
By using “under,” you can narrow down the location (i.e., the state the issue is taking place in) before moving on to the issue of crime or liability.
Another tip is to hold off on writing the issue until the rest of your piece is written. Take the conclusion and condense it into a single sentence. Then, all that’s left to do is finish it off with a flourish shaped like a question mark.
“Yes” or “no” needs to be the simple answer to the question.
The Rule: Clear and Simple
This answer is the short portion of your IRAC. Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb to go with it because every school and employer has its preferences.
However, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Like your question (issue), the tone should be kept neutral and avoid any names of the party members involved and other proper nouns.
- Don’t go into detail about what the law is. Assume your audience is familiar with the law already. Instead, explain in just a few sentences what you expect the legal outcome to be.
- If several laws could be applicable in the case, you may need to have more than one rule statement, perhaps several. As you reread, be sure to check that the number of rules matches the number of issues you’ve stated.
- Use a definitive tone, even if the statutes or case laws referenced aren’t strictly applicable to the issue.
- Even writers break the rules sometimes. For lawyers, one of those times is when you’re stating the rule. It may look like a run-on sentence from one of the required readings in your prerequisite course, but that’s okay.
No, the employer cannot be sued for a worker’s injury because workers’ compensation not only covers the costs of recovery for the injured employee but protects the employer against lawsuits.
The Analysis: Be Specific
The analysis of your IRAC is usually the most challenging portion because it asks the writer to be specific, and the style is often inconsistent. It’s essential to know the grammatical and style rules set forth by your boss or professor in order to write an IRAC that will pass inspection.
Here are some general tips:
- Be as geographically accurate as you can. If a past case took place in the same state or city as the issue you’re addressing, refer to it as much as possible.
- By rule, criminal law cases require a statute to be referenced, whereas a civil law case may not have appropriate statutes.
- At least two sources (minimum) are required for both criminal and civil cases.
- Proper citations are critical, which means the Bluebook and Association of Legal Writing Directories (ALWD) are your new best friends for citing cases.
- Subheadings are welcome for cases where more than one issue is being addressed. Use them to define individual legal topics.
- Draw similarities between your case and the ones you’re referencing by writing analogies such as: Like the plaintiff who was injured by the defendant’s dog, our client was scratched by the neighbor’s cat.
The Conclusion: Last but Never Least
Probably every lawyer’s favorite part of the IRAC is the Conclusion because it means they’re almost done writing! Like every high school and college essay you ever wrote, this is where you summarize the entirety of your legal findings.
Your conclusion generally shouldn’t be any longer than a paragraph and needs to address the legal issue one more time. If there’s more than one issue, make sure each one is addressed. The conclusion should also offer the expected legal ruling.
No two conclusions are ever precisely the same, but an example might be:
Mr. Golden cannot be sued for Mr. Delicious’s slip and fall from the refrigerator because Mr. Golden offers workers’ compensation to his employees; therefore, he is protected against a personal injury lawsuit. The civil claim should be dismissed.
Stay With It
The IRAC method isn’t as bad as you might think. It just takes a little bit of practice and a lot of muscle memory.
One last tip: worry about the format later. Put those ideas running around your brain down on paper first, then you can arrange them into proper paragraphs. And don’t be shy about using examples to guide you for future IRAC assignments.
About the Author
Ben Gerber is a founding partner of Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in Atlanta and Athens, GA. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, where he graduated cum laude before continuing his education at the George Washington University Law School and earning his Juris Doctor degree. In addition to representing Georgia’s workers, he is an active member of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, Atlanta Bar Association, and a junior board member of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Association.