Bar exam essays require you to draft articulate answers to seemingly unpredictable fact patterns that test a wide range of legal subjects. Sounds intimidating, right? Perhaps, but keep in mind that a successful bar exam essay does not require stylistic eloquence or even particularly sophisticated legal arguments. Instead, a successful bar exam essay simply requires you to methodically spot the issues and analyze the key facts. A systematic approach to the essays, while perhaps a bit dry and repetitive, will help you tackle any fact pattern and produce an organized answer that consistently racks up points. In short, success on this portion of the bar exam requires you to be an essay writing machine.
It All Starts with the Rules
Before we get into the details of our systematic essay writing approach, I have to take a moment to emphasize the absolute importance of knowing the law. It all starts with the rules! You must comprehend and memorize the rules in order to perform any of the other necessary skills. The rules are what trigger issues, what make certain facts important, and what direct you in how to proceed in the analysis. Knowledge of the rules provides the foundation for everything else, so don’t skip this important step.
Refine Your Approach
Once you’ve got the rules down cold, you can hone your approach to writing an essay answer. There are many different acronyms out there to help you organize your legal writing: IRAC, CRAC, CIRAC, TREAT, and so on. Importantly, all of these systems share some common traits that you should be implementing in your essays answers. First, you identify the concept being tested, whether that’s via an issue statement or some sort of conclusion, and define the rule of law that will help you to address that concept. Then, you make an argument, using the facts, as to why the rule you identified is or is not satisfied. Lastly, you state the likely outcome or ruling. If you deploy these steps in a consistent manner for each issue spotted, almost as though it were a pattern that you’re repeating over and over again, you’ll end up with an answer that is organized, concise, and complete.
Put Into Action and Practice, Practice, Practice
To get a better understanding of how this process works, let’s take a look at an example: assume you’re presented with an Evidence fact pattern involving a car accident, and Plaintiff is trying to introduce evidence that every morning before she backs out of her driveway, she invariably looks into her rear view mirror and checks over each shoulder to make sure the road is clear. If you’ve been reviewing your FRE, you probably noted that this is a habit evidence issue. The steps discussed above make it easy to quickly but completely address this issue:
The issue is whether the Plaintiff may introduce evidence of habit to prove that she acted in conformity with that habit on the day of the incident. Habit is a person’s regular, consistent response to specific circumstances and is admissible to prove that a person acted in conformity with that habit on a particular occasion. Here, Plaintiff will argue that her behavior qualifies as habit because she invariably checks the road every morning before backing out and she is therefore performing the same actions to the same circumstances on a regular, consistent basis. Defendant may argue that this behavior should not qualify as habit evidence because the circumstances presented are not specific or unique enough. The evidence will qualify as habit evidence and should be admissible.
In formulating the analytical or argumentative section of the response, you may find it helpful to use the names of the parties involved followed by a statement indicating that they will argue the rule is or is not satisfied. In generic form, it looks something like this: “[Party] will argue that [rule is/is not satisfied] because [factual explanation]. [Other party] will argue…” This structure is implemented in the example above, and it’s another way that you can standardize your approach to help you achieve an organized and efficient answer.
This process will then repeat itself as you proceed through each issue raised by the fact pattern. While it may initially seem onerous to stick to a consistent approach like this throughout each essay, it actually becomes rather quick and easy with a little practice. Also, keep in mind that this is one method for working through essay exams, but it’s not the only method. Experiment with a few different approaches until you find the strategy that makes the most sense to you, keeping in mind the importance of having an organized and thorough analysis for each issue.
This type of an approach to essay writing might seem repetitive, but that’s okay. Remember, bar exam essay success isn’t about writing an eloquent, passionate legal brief; it’s about accruing as many points as possible on each answer. A consistent, systematic approach will help you do just that by producing an organized answer that addresses all the key issues and arguments. The bar exam essays are not the time to be clever or creative. Instead, strive to be clear, concise, and complete!
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