Everyone taking the California bar exam has probably at least heard of IRAC — the notorious, and sometimes painfully formulaic underpinning of many a law school final exam. The question comes up pretty frequently with bar students, though, “Do I need IRAC for the bar?” The answer is an emphatic “Yes!”
The same tried and true organizational rules you learned in law school, such as using issue headers and IRAC-ing, are not only crucial for structuring your Bar essays (and PTs!), they also signal to the grader that you know which pieces of the puzzle fit where. This can make your essay easier to read and grade, and you might just come off as more confident, knowledgeable, and deserving of that passing score.
What do you do, though, if the outlines you’ve dusted off from your Bar subject courses back in law school leave a lot to be desired? What if the outlines you are making now based on your Bar review course or tutoring are not as structured as they need to be? That’s where the mini-IRAC comes in.
A mini-IRAC (“irac”) is a strategy for separating the main, overarching IRAC (e.g. for negligence) into smaller, less overwhelming building blocks. Hopefully, on the Bar, the headers and sub-headers you employ in your IRAC and mini-IRAC(s) will mirror those in your attack plans (which is another great reason to get organized now and start practicing and memorizing early!).
Below is an exemplar IRAC for negligence with mini-IRACs built in for various potential sub-issues. Each red parenthetical letter represents the IRAC (or irac) step, and the italicized text offers pointers about what to consider when writing your own practice essays and eventual bar answers. Keep in mind, there are multiple strategies for formulating a negligence analysis, and you can word these rules differently. The rules I’ve referenced for the purpose of this illustration may not be precisely the same as the ones your bar course or tutor is focusing on. So, as always, if you’ve learned different wording, stick to that.
The issue is whether D is liable to P for negligence. An action for negligence requires P to prove four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) causation, and (4) damage. (R)
Duty (i) (mini-IRAC—notice the indentation of the header here, which calls out to the grader that this is a sub-issue)
Every person owes a general duty not to pose an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The claimant must be a foreseeable plaintiff. (r)
* Consider bringing up the Cardozo vs. Andrews distinctions for who is a foreseeable plaintiff and the “zone of danger” test.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply the law to the facts you’ve been given and say whether this plaintiff would be foreseeable or not. “Here” is a great buzzword to kick off your analysis paragraph. Always use “because” to make sure you are spelling out why certain facts are legally significant. Remember, on the Bar, you’re aiming for a strong analysis which applies every single available fact. Your analysis paragraphs should always be the longest and most involved of your IRAC.
Thus, … (c)
Conclude as to whether there is a duty or not. “Thus” or “therefore” is a good way to signal that you’re concluding. Keep this part short and sweet. You should have already written everything you wanted to say about why you’re concluding this way in your analysis section above, so no reason to repeat it here.
Assuming the court finds that D owed a duty to P, the next question is what duty D owed and what standard of care will be applied.
Standard of Care (i) (mini-sub-IRAC) (one more level of header indentation since this is a sub-sub-issue)
The general standard of care is that of a reasonable and prudent person under the same or similar circumstances. This is an objective test. (r)
* Note: Additions or nuances to this rule may apply if you are dealing with children, professionals, mental or physical disabilities, licensees, invitees, trespassers, special relationships, etc. Also, think about the Attractive Nuisance doctrine here. If any of these apply, you should consider pulling out a sub-section with its own header(s) depending on how big the issue is and how many facts you have about it.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply the law to your facts and determine which standard of care applies.
Thus, … (c)
Conclude on what the standard of care is going to be.
Breach occurs when D’s conduct falls short of the level required by the applicable standard of care. (r)
* Apply any tests for breach, such as res ipsa loquitur, here.
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Analyze by applying law to fact. Discuss whether the D has lived up to the standard. Argue back and forth if there are facts to support each side of the argument.
Therefore, … (c)
Say whether the breach element has been met.
There must be a causal link between the D’s breach and the P’s damage. Both actual and proximate cause are required. (r)
Actual Cause (i)
Actual causation is satisfied if “but for” D’s breach, P would not have suffered the harm. (r)
[ANALYSIS] Tie the law to the facts. Use “because” to say whether the but for test has been met. (a), (c)
Proximate Cause (i)
The harm to P must be a foreseeable consequence of D’s actions. (r)
Here, … (a)
[ANALYSIS] Apply law to fact and argue both sides to the extent possible.
*Consider whether the substantial factor test applies. Are there any superseding cause issues? Any problems involving the type, manner, degree or foreseeability of the harm?
Therefore, … (c)
Conclude on whether proximate cause (and the causation element generally) has been met.
P must prove damage in the form of actual harm or injury. (r)
Here, … (a), (c)
Apply law to fact and discuss what P’s damages are, if any.
* Consider whether there are eggshell skull plaintiff issues triggered by your fact pattern. What about the collateral source rule?
The court would likely find/not find the D in this case liable for negligence because… (C) (overarching “C” from the big IRAC)
Again, keep this brief. You’ve already done the heavy lifting above. No need to reiterate all of your mini-conclusions here.
Do any defenses to negligence apply based on the facts you have?
* Think about contributory negligence, comparative negligence (pure and partial) and assumption of risk.
Well, there it is, a comprehensive IRAC for negligence! If this seemed more involved than your own outlines or attack plans, ask yourself if you might need to get further into the nitty-gritty nuances of the law you’re memorizing before you start trimming down into attack plans. Even if your end goal is a set of very streamlined, abbreviated attack plans for each subject (which it should be!), you still need to learn all the cumbersome structural details as you make your way through the synthesis process.
Bottom line: knowing the four basic elements of negligence, plus some key phrases about actual and proximate cause and the basic reasonable person standard might not be enough. Make sure you aren’t leaving out important analytical steps, because they may very well be triggered by a fact pattern you see on your exam. The graders will be looking for a clear structure based on the legal rules you’re applying, and precise organization is key. The way to become an expert organizer is to practice.
Hopefully, you are going beyond mere issue spotting and actually writing out practice exam answers, and re-writing what you miss. Writing out a full IRAC or mini-IRAC hones skills you can’t develop by simply reading a fact pattern and scribbling down potential legal issues before checking the model answers. Keep in mind, the mission is to make your blueprints now and then actually practice using them so many times that when the proctor says “go!”on exam day, you can jump into a fast-paced process with a clear road map that you are already adept and proficient at applying.
Ariel Salzer is a California Bar Tutor with the Bar Exam Toolbox. If you are interested in learning more about bar exam tutoring, click here.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Why Do We Have to Write Out Practice Answers?
- The Power of the Re-write
- The Performance Test: Why You Should be Studying Now
- The 7 Areas of Bar Exam Preparation
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