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Law School Essay Exam

How To Write a First-Class Law School Essay Exam Answer

Every student wants to write a first-class law school essay exam answer.  To excel at law school essay exam writing, you must know and understand the law, spot all the pertinent issues in the exam hypothetical, thoroughly analyze those issues by persuasively applying the law to fact, and provide sound legal conclusions based on your analysis.  These skills are fundamental to writing an outstanding law exam essay answer, and they require extensive law school exam preparation combined with law exam practice.  

Having Knowledge and Understanding of the Law

Knowing the legal rules is foundational to writing a top-notch law school essay exam answer. When working as a law school writing professor, I tested my first-year law students on strict liability involving animals that were the product of crossbreeding domestic and wild animals. When I read all the exam answers submitted, one stood out from the rest because it demonstrated with precision all the essential skills required to produce a superior essay answer. 

The answer demonstrated the student’s ability to state the relevant rules.  The student achieved this knowledge from briefing his cases because briefing assists with not only learning the legal rules but also with the legal reasoning required to apply the rules.  He also attended all his classes, which is important because the class discussions assist with the ability to apply the law.  

This same student utilized the Fleming’s Torts Substantive Law Outline, another important resource in his law school preparation arsenal.  This outline distilled the law and provided him with crisp rule definitions that made their way into his impressive answer.  

By following the law school process and utilizing proper legal resource materials, it was clear this student knew the law and understood which standards to use for what was being tested. As a reader, I did not have to guess at the legal standards when scoring the answer – the content in the exam answer spoke for itself.

It’s Essential to Spot all the Issues In Law School Essay Exams

The next aspect of this student’s first-class law school essay writing was that he spotted all the major and minor issues.  Achieving that put him a cut above the majority of other student examinees who did not.

Many students can spot several of the major issues. However, many miss the minor issues.  Using as an example this strict liability exam, there was a subtle fact that created an intervening factor that arguably could sever liability.  For students who did not spot this issue, their conclusions were flawed.  For the few students who spotted the intervening factor, they set themselves apart from the rest of the class because they recognized the issue, cited the applicable law, analyzed the law to the specific facts, and came to the proper conclusion based on their reasoned analysis. They also received the high score for their effort.

Writing a superior law school essay exam answer is not just about knowing the substantive law – it is about applying the law to facts that raise issues. Thus, a student can know all the law in the world, but if he or she cannot spot issues on a law school exam, there is no chance to demonstrate application, which is the cornerstone to becoming a lawyer. 

Thus, as part of law school exam preparation, I recommend students review practice exams and model answers for issue spotting to increase this necessary issue spotting skill. Integrating law school exam practice into the study process will always lead to higher grades.

Writing Precise and Persuasive Law School Essay Exam Analysis

Knowing the rules and spotting the issues will afford a certain number of points, but in law school essay writing, you can knock it out of the park with precise and persuasive analysis/application of the facts.  

Referring again to the student mentioned above, his outstanding answer utilized all the facts in the exam.  He stated what the facts actually said, and then interpreted the facts within the context of the law. He finished with a reasoned conclusion based on his analysis. 

As a law school professor, I have graded thousands of law school exams. I am always frustrated when I read law exam answers wherein the law student paraphrases the facts because paraphrasing can change the nature of the facts.  It is never a good idea to frustrate the person who is grading the exam answer. Law students must understand that the facts are given as they are for a reason. The facts must be used specifically and in the same language given in the exam hypothetical so they can then be properly interpreted and analyzed when applying the law. 

Another reason why the student referred to above wrote a first-class law school essay exam was because he analyzed the law and facts persuasively.  A problem for most students is writing analysis that is conclusory.  It is conclusory because they are not answering the “why” for each issue.  

To correct conclusory analysis, law students must provide analysis for each element of the rule using the facts in support e.g., “The large goats owned by Mr. Farmer wandered onto Mr. Field’s neighboring property after the lock pulled out from the connector on their pen. The gate then swung open, and the animals entered the neighboring land without that landowner’s knowledge.  Thus, the goats were trespassing livestock.” Here in this example, the student answered why the large goats were trespassing and how it happened.  If you are not writing this way, you must practice by tying the element of the rule and the facts together to answer the “why.” 

When writing a superb law school essay exam, you must analyze the law and facts for each party because the intent of law school essay exams is to train you to think like a lawyer.  As a civil litigation attorney, I not only research the facts and law for my client, but I must do the same for the opposing party because I must be able to anticipate and refute their arguments.  

In the student’s essay exam referred to above, he skillfully argued on behalf of both the plaintiff and defendant. When I read his exam answer, his arguments flowed flawlessly from one issue to the next, addressing the arguments for each party.

Legal reasoning is the method of thought and argument used when applying the rules to the facts. In the crossbred animal case, the neighbor used an electric cattle prod on the animals to try to move them off his property.  The student provided a brief, yet exceptional analysis on behalf of the plaintiff, explaining why an electric cattle prod could incite domestic animals, not only the crossbred animals, to be aggressive.  He had the skill to apply a reasonable argument that extended from the fact pattern in support of the plaintiff’s defense.

Legally Sound Conclusions 

Outstanding law school essay writing requires correct and concise conclusions.  As a grader, I would assign “0” points to a conclusion that began with, “If the court finds . . . ”  or conclusions that did not comport with the reasoning in the analysis.  You are being trained to think like a lawyer, so ultimately you must pick a position and assert it in your conclusion.  Always write conclusions where it’s relevant, as well as an overall conclusion for each call of the question.

Do Not be Afraid to Seek Help Learning to Write Law School Essay Exams

It can be exceedingly difficult for law students to assess their own strengths and weaknesses when developing their essay writing.  Students can also hit roadblocks.  If this is happening to you, I recommend that you discuss your essay exams with your professors because their feedback can be truly enlightening.  They also tend to be very dedicated and enjoy assisting law students, so be courageous and ask for help.  

If you are still having difficulty with exam test-taking after consulting with your professors, private tutors, like those available through Fleming’s Fundamental of Law, are a tremendous resource because they can address and provide direction regarding your specific strengths and weaknesses. 

Work Hard to Master Law School Essay Writing

You must master each aspect of law school essay writing to achieve a first-class exam.  It

takes dedication to learning and applying the facts to the law in a persuasive manner.  It also takes a tremendous amount of practice because you must keep working on developing the skill until you achieve your goal.  Once you do, you will be well on the road to thinking and writing like a lawyer. 

Law School vs. Bar Exam Essay Writing

The law school essay exam principles discussed above are the same for bar exam essays. Bar examiners are looking for the same ingredients in essay exam answers that law professors are looking for in law school exam answers. Thus, when you prepare to take law school essay exams, you are also preparing to take bar exam answers. 

Embrace the law school process because every practice exam you take and every mid-term and final exam you take brings you closer to your goal to pass the Bar Exam and begin your legal career as a lawyer.

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