Learning to Work With IRAC

What is IRAC?

IRAC stands for the “Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion” structure of legal analysis. An effective essay follows some form of the IRAC structure where it is organized around an “issue”, a “rule”, an “application”, and a “conclusion” for each and every issue and sub-issue identified as a legal problem.

While using IRAC doesn’t guarantee an “A” from the professor, it’s extremely useful in organizing an answer. And even though it’s not the only way to structure an answer, it helps to make sure that all the bases are covered. So until you achieve the level of mental and written fluency where you can weave together rule and fact in a seamless web and transition between thoughts without loss of either the substance or your reader, I strongly recommend that you rely on some form of IRAC to keep focused. While IRAC will never cover for a lack of knowledge nor substitute for a lack of analysis, you can use it as tool for organizing your thinking and your writing. Think of it as a supporting scaffold (or training wheels) to ensure that the necessary steps are followed. Once the process becomes instinctive, then the props can be discarded and you can weave together rule and fact. But until then, you have something you can rely on to guide you through the process.

How to IRAC

  1. Begin by stating the issue:
    The issue is the most important element in the analysis because you need to know enough law to find the issue. The legal question is a blend of rule and the facts particular to the problem.
    • Articulate the issue by formulating the legal question presented by the facts. To find the issue, ask yourself: “what is in controversy in these facts.” (Of course you need to know the law to find a legal question in the facts.)
    • Use the “whether, when” structure to help you isolate and write an issue statement.

    Some professors might not want to see this language – “the issue is whether.” You achieve the same result with other words – “Did” or “Can”, for example. Don’t get fixated on language. Follow your individual professor’s instruction and realize that either way, you achieve the same result: identification of the legal problem.

    But you can always use the following language to guide your thought process.

    Begin with,

    “The issue is whether,”

    identify and state the legal conclusion you want the court to reach,

    Don committed a battery, (or an offer was made, or the court can assert personal jurisdiction)

    then connect to the “relevant” facts ( the relevant facts being those facts which will determine the outcome),

    when he pushed Pam even though he knew she was in no danger of being hit by the bicyclist (or when he said, “would you buy my watch for $500 in cash on next Tuesday?” or when the defendant conducted business in the forum state, had an office and a full-time staff, and paid state taxes.)

  2. State the controlling rule of law:
    After you have identified the issue, you must articulate the rule. A useful guideline to writing the rule is to write enough about the law to provide the context in which you will analyze the facts. The rule and the facts are inextricably linked. Your analysis of the facts will not make sense unless you have first identified the rule which determines the legal meaning to be attributed to those facts.
    Use building blocks for writing the rule of law by considering
    1. elements
    2. definitions
    3. exceptions to the general rule
    4. limitations to the rule
    5. defenses
    When writing, follow a hierarchy of concepts by
    1. moving from the general to the specific
    2. defining each legal term of art
    The consequences of applying the rule – what will happen?
    What are the consequences of this rule in this situation?
    Which leads you to consider:
    What does application of the rule mean here? What will be its effect?
    This question helps transition to analysis
  3. Analyze the facts in light of the law (“Application”):
    The analysis or application is the heart of the discussion. It is where you examine the inferences/implications raised by the facts in light of the rule. As you write your analysis, work from your articulation of the rule to guide your application of the facts. Here your statement of the rule provides a blueprint to follow for your discussion of the facts. You simply match up each element/factor you’ve identified in the rule with a fact, using the word “because” to make the connection between rule and fact.

    “Because” is the single most important word to use when writing the analysis. Using the word “because” forces you to make the connection between rule and fact. You’ll find that you can also make use of the words “as” and “since” — they serve the same function as “because.”

    Examples of how “because” works to change recitation to application:

    What not to write:
    In this case, while Pete the police officer was giving Dan a sobriety test, he noticed that Dan fit the description of an eyewitness to the robbery, giving the police officer probable cause to arrest Dan.

    What you should write:
    In this case, Pete the police officer realized that Dan fit the description of the suspect, providing probable cause for arrest, because Dan was extremely tall at 6'4", was wearing a green and tan sweater with purple patches and pointy-toed alligator cowboy boots, fitting the description provided by the eyewitness to the robbery.

    What not to write:
    ABC Inc. engaged Dr. Jones to develop a drug that reduced hair loss. Dr. Jones worked in his own laboratory, hired and fired his own assistants and set their working hours as well as his own. He meets with the President of ABC every Friday morning to discuss progress on the project and at this time, Dr. Jones submits his timesheet for payment. The President pays Dr. Jones weekly.

    What you should write:
    Here, Dr. Jones can be considered an independent consultant for ABC Inc. because he completes all the research and development work in his own laboratory, in a separate facility from that of ABC, where he has direct control over the employees because he hired his own assistants, setting their work hours. He also exercises direct control over his own work because he sets his own work hours and only meets with ABC once a week. Further, since he only meets with the President of ABC on a weekly basis to discuss progress on development of the hair loss product, the President does not supervise Dr. Jones on a daily basis as to the work which goes on in the laboratory.

  4. Conclusion: Is something not clear to you? If the court’s reasoning seems off, question it. If you see a conflict or a result that doesn’t comport with the reasoning, note it. It is likely to show up in class discussion. State your conclusion with respect to each issue. There is no right or wrong answer. There is only logical analysis based on the rule and the facts which lead to a reasonable conclusion.

Note: Repeat the process for each issue you identify — each issue forms the basis for a separate IRAC analysis.