Exam Tip - Use the Facts, But Do Not Just List the Facts

You cannot perform legal analysis without discussing the facts.  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, your professors do not know whether you understand which facts are relevant to resolving each issue. 

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; (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.

CautionListing 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.