Listing facts is not the same thing as discussing them. True legal analysis occurs when you explain to a reader why a fact (or facts) leads to a legal conclusion. Consider the following examples.
Example 1 - John told the plaintiff “I will hit you if you come around here again.” Therefore, the battery was not imminent.
Example 2 – John told the plaintiff “I will hit you if you come around here again.” Generally, words alone cannot satisfy the imminence element of an assault. More specifically, these words merely inform the listener that he might be “hit” at some point in the future. The words “if you come around here again” placed a condition on the plaintiff being struck, which means that the plaintiff might never be struck by John. The fact that John might never strike the plaintiff means that the battery cannot be imminent.
If you were not sure, example 2 is the better answer! This is a somewhat obvious example to illustrate the point. The pattern in the second example – note a fact (or facts) and then explain why you have brought it to the reader’s attention – consistently appears in well done legal analysis.
(Adapted from Succeeding in Law School by Herbert N. Ramy.)
You cannot perform legal analysis without discussing the facts. There are few absolutes in law school, but including the facts in your answer to essay questions is one of them. Remember, most law school essay questions are written in the form of a lengthy fact pattern or story. The facts within these stories create the issues that you must discuss. Almost every fact in these stories must be reproduced and discussed in your examination answer. While it is true that your professors will know the facts in the problem, we do not know whether you understand which facts are relevant to resolving each issue. Including the facts in your answer does not guarantee success on your law school exams, but excluding the facts guarantees that you will perform below your capabilities.
To ensure that the facts are making their way into your essay answers, place a line through each fact as you use it. Do not cross the fact out so that it becomes illegible, however, because a single fact may be relevant to more than one issue. After you finish your essay answer, look back at the fact pattern. If there are facts left over, one of three things has occurred: (1) the facts are truly irrelevant and do not need to be discussed (unlikely!); (2) the facts are relevant to an issue or issues that you have already discussed; or (3) the facts are relevant to an issue that you have not addressed at all.
As for supposedly irrelevant facts, professors rarely place information into their fact patterns that does not need to be discussed. Most “irrelevant” facts are there so that you can explain why they are irrelevant. (Adapted from Succeeding in Law School by Herbert N. Ramy.)
Michael Sandel, renowned Harvard professor and author of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, will speak at the Chao Auditorium at 10 AM on December 1. Professor Sandel is also the featured guest of the Kentucky Author Forum later that evening at The Kentucky Center.
At the Kentucky Center, Professor Sandel will be interviewed by John S. Carroll, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Justice, or Moral Reasoning 22, a course in moral and political philosophy taught by Harvard Professor of Government, Michael Sandel, draws more than 1,200 students each year. Sandel speaks to a rapt audience, relating the big questions of political philosophy to the most current and vexing issues of the day. Visit www.justiceharvard.org for a taste of his exhilarating class.
His new book, Justice, offers readers the same exhilarating journey that captivates his students- the challenge of thinking our way through the hard moral challenges we confront as citizens, inviting readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways.
Click here for more details about the Kentucky Author Forum event.
Read the instructions! This is the most obvious advice imaginable, but every exam period several students will, for example, answer 3 short exam questions, only to discover that the instructions said “provide an answer to 1 of the following 3 hypotheticals.” Most students get flustered at the start of an exam, so this type of mistake is more common than you might imagine. When the exam starts, take a deep breath, slow yourself down, and read the instructions. Adapted from Succeeding in Law School by Herbert N. Ramy.