A problem question denotes the logical provision of an answer to apresented scenario. The problem is usually grounded upon a factsituation that can occur in real life, designed to test one’scomprehension to a specific area of the law. This means that theytest the magnitude to which one understands the legal standards andfacets on a situation or topic assessed.1In this regards, the question allows a law practitioner to apply thelaw to reach a conclusive assessment about a probable legal outcome.In a law situation, problems normally encompass one or more scenariosthat give rise to a claim that may involve numerous possiblerespondents and plaintiffs. Thus, they require a student to instructparties on their liabilities or rights to enable them to demonstratetheir comprehension of the law by applying relevant legal values tothe facts posed or illustrate their insight of the law by recognisingthe legal issues behind the posed facts in a situation. On the otherhand, “an essay is a piece of writing that objectively andcritically explores, analyses or evaluates a particular issue or areaof the law.”2This means that unlike a problem question that demands a person toemploy the law to fact patterns, essays require a person to solve aparticular legal controversy. Dealing with an essay or a problemquestion requires a different approach because of the differentnature of the aspects. It is imperative to provide a parallelanalysis between an essay question and problem question to highlightthe way one approaches them especially in critically analysing each.
Essay question: Creating a good law essay
In the case of a problem question, a student should just apply alaw, but with an essay question, one should critically think aboutthe posed question. Since the law applies to a range of numerousscenarios, an essay question requires an assessment of the currentsituation of the law that illustrates any areas of indistinctnesstowards the situation. Essays assess the scope to which an apprenticeor a law practitioner comprehends the legal standards on theevaluated topic. One should analyse the essay title by identifyingthe keywords, content-related words, and practise associated wordssuch as contrast, compare, outline, and describe.3One should show their knowledge of the law by categorising the issuesand deliberations related to the essay topic, as well as, demonstratetheir comprehension by making effective argument or discussion in theessay. Thus, in putting up fundamental legal standards and thedevelopment of the specific aspects of the law, it is critical for astudent to utilise flowing sentences and organised subsections. Mostimportantly, an essay question should illustrate how a student hasinterpreted a law in consequent cases and discussed anyconstitutional intervention. A comprehensive and dynamic structureand organisation of arguments ensure that a student attains a highgrade since failure to cultivate a fluent structure regardless of thehighlighted knowledge hinders the effectiveness of an essay question.In this regards, it is critical for a person to plan to assist inproffering a comprehensible and well-structured argument orconclusion. In an essay question, the concluding section must exploreand directly answer the set questions and align to the centralarguments developed throughout the essay. To comprehend an essaycritically, a student should read the question clearly and payparticular attention to the words utilised. Reading the question isthe first step to analysing it effectively, since failing to do soinhibits once capacity to address the question effectively.4Moreover, essay questions are normally worded extensively and coveran infinite number of aspects thus, it is essential for a student toread generally on the topic. For example, the footnotes or endnotesin a textbook or an article provide valuable information to a case.
Skills required answering essay questions
Reading widely and texts directed to legal research allows a studentto be exposed to extensive sources of law. After reading the posedquestions, students should plan on what they intend to discuss orargue, for example, one can think about controversial issues in thequestion, the different arguments to the contested issue, and thefavoured side. Moreover, it is significant to describe a legalquestion comprehensively and synthesise the sourced material or factscritically. All suggestions should be supported by logicalexplanations and evidence. The structure of the essay is as criticalas the insight cultivated. Essay questions do not always involverealistic portrayals of the requirement of law, but they will usuallyrequire one to analyse the actual details in some manner. This meansthat an essay question should be about analytical evaluation ratherthan a mere description of facts, nonetheless, one should notcriticise every described provision. For example, if a specificcriticism arises that one disagrees with, they should still discussthe issue and illustrate its lack of validity.
An effective essay question ought to have a clear and comprehensivethesis that analytically identifies the legal authority, a refinedargument, and a critical evaluation. Although an essay questionentails almost the same practises required in a problem question, thetechniques employed in an essay question are in a slightly differentway and verified. The essay should consider all details and addressthe precise controversy cultivated in the wording.5Furthermore, it should have an in-depth comprehension and insight ofthe pertinent law, accurately described and structured in a fluentmanner. The approach developed should be critical and aligned toanswering effectively the posed question without failing to include acomprehensive demonstration. Solving an essay question requires oneto follow four stages
Research: In this period, a student collects all the essential datato write the essay. The information can be sourced from textbooks,articles, journals, legal databases, reports, and legislations.
Planning: This stage involves effective planning concerning what theessay will present. The period encompasses a detailed description ofwhat the essay will highlight in each subsection. Moreover, itillustrates the sources of useful quotes or notes that have beenutilised in the research.
Draft: The stage answers the posed question by drawing on the studyand the obtained information. However, any information discussed isnot final or conclusive. The essay should be divided into anintroduction, body, and conclusion with each section describing thedetails of the essay in a different way.
Review: The review phase involves an assessment of the essay to noteany detail left out. The evaluation also helps in showing that thestructure of the essay has been followed.
Problem question: Different approaches
A problem question tests one’s understanding of specific legalstandards and capacity to employ different principles to facts.Creswell opines that the problems are cultivated to illustratechallenging or unresolved areas in case laws hence, require studentsto evaluate the diverse sides to a specific scenario.6A lawyer is required to advise clients grounded on their illustrationof a dispute or a situation. Conversely, a judge makes a legalsuggestion or determination based on the presented facts. It isagainst this backdrop that problem questions have become essential inallowing one develop all sort of techniques and insights required toresolve a legal dispute. For one to spot the aspects of a questionproblem, one needs to be clear about the fundamental aspects of eachsituation and recognise the different parties involved in the case. Alaw practitioner should remember that providing legal determinationencompasses a deliberation of any policy or regulation groundedargument that the other party might rely on. For example, one shouldbe alert of the respondent`s liability or any aspect that suggests aparticular defence might be available to the respondent. One shouldalways remember that a claimant’s ability to establish a claim onfacts is not enough to determine the guiltiness of a defendant as theoffender might ascertain a defence. One, a practitioner hasrecognised the legal questions and noted the relevant legal standardsthat apply to the question, they should organise the layout of theanswer. The answers should be isolated separately based on particularsituations.
In a problem question, a student will engage in a fact pattern toproduce a model or ideal answer. For example, a problem questionmight be posed as “Trump was cycling home after having three beersat a local pub, when he veered off the road to miss a pedestrian andcrashed into an illegally parked car. What lawful accusations may bebrought against Trump and what defences might he contend?” In thisscenario, right or wrong answers will suffice since in a problemquestion, other information may develop in future. This means that aproblem question requires a structured answer followed by a fluentdiscussion. The disparity between an essay and a problem arises inthat any answer to an essay is a good one if, it is backed by adecent discussion but in a problem, one needs to offer a validsolution to the problem.7Responses to problems should take the form of a balanced andobjective advice. Moreover, it should encompass a dynamic conclusionwith a perception on the probable outcome of what the client shouldtake. The approach taken in handling a problem depends on thecircumstances, for instance, a problem question set in an assessmentrequires a limited period to analyse thus, the survey of law will bebased on the aspects learned in class and knowledge gathered inprivate study. The problem will require a student to demonstratetheir comprehension of the law’s structure and the essential issuesin a specific legal field.
Techniques required answering a problem question
One of the major differences between a problem and an essay questionis that a problem question does not necessarily have a conclusiveanswer since any resolved inference usually requires supplementaryinformation. Moreover, in most problem questions an uncertainty inthe law suffices, which makes it problematic to predict a possibleoutcome. Nonetheless, one should apply the IRAC (identify, rule,apply, and conclusion) mnemonic to setting the right answer to aproblem question to ensure an effective outcome. The University ofSydney contends that “to reach a conclusion about how the law wouldapply to a specific fact scenario, the problem should normally beanalysed using an IRAC (issue, rule application, conclusion)approach”8There are some fundamental stages that one should take to develop athorough, methodical, and reasonable presented response. Breaking theproblem question procedure into numerous stages assists the writeraverts the feeling of being overwhelmed by content. Furthermore, ithelps the student deal with the raised issues comprehensively andsystematically without leaving any detail. The IRAC mnemonic allows astudent to separate issues from legal rules, regulations from theapplication, and deduction. The steps include
Issue: The stage involves the identification of the tangible facts and the legal aspects that might arise in discussing the scenario. In analysing a question, a student needs to be thorough and methodical, commence at the beginning and work through each sentence. The person should recognise the instructions clearly, identify the different parties, ascertain the tangible facts, identify the issues that may arise, and look for parallels to current cases. The parties and issues should be organised into events, the defendant, and the claimant.
Rule: The stage sets out the pertinent legal standards and gives the authority for the identified principles, for example, one gives the source or reference- statutes or case laws, but in the absence of case laws, one can utilise secondary authorities such as texts. It is also important to distinguish between a persuasive (legal commentaries from documents, laws, articles, and other jurisdictions) and a binding authority (case and statute laws).
Application: In this stage, one applies legal standards to develop facts. In a real life situation, the stage advances when a judge is determining a case.
Conclusion: After employing the numerous law principles to the particulars, one determined the possible outcome to the case. As a lawyer, one anticipates and evaluates the legal arguments from the defendant and the claimant and give an effective advice on the probable success of the argument, but as a judge, one comes to a conclusive decision.
In approaching a problem question, one needs to plan for an effectiveanswer, use subheadings to break facts, note the question raised inthe issue, discuss all the issues even if they are insignificant ornot applicable due to a specific factual, summarise facts, and citecase laws.9Before attempting a problem-based question, one should conduct ageneral appraisal of the different legal standards that relate to theproblem. For instance, one can review textbooks, evaluate appropriatelegislations, and read leading or related case laws. Doing so allowsa student to get an idea of the likely issues hence, equipping themto identify the issues as applicable in the situation. However, it issignificant to note that textbooks become obsolete thus, one needsto utilise authorised research skills to check on the recentdevelopments.
A problem question encompasses a set of hypothetical facts thatraises numerous issues that require being answered by allusion to thelaw. In this regards, it is a short story about events that developinto a potential legal accountability about the provision of advice.On the other hand, an essay question denotes a piece of writing thatcritically and quantitatively assesses or analyses a specific issueof the law. Essays and problems differ in that an essay should bebacked by a decent discussion but a problem only needs to provide avalid solution to the problem. In a problem question approach onedoes not necessarily need to have a conclusive answer or argumentsince any resolved conclusion usually requires additional data unlikean essay question where the argument is usually conclusive.
Creswell, John W. Qualitativeinquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches.Sage, 2013.
Goldstein, Tom, and Jethro K. Lieberman. The lawyer`s guideto writing well. University of California Press, 2016.
University of Sydney. Legalessay. <http://sydney.edu.au/law/learning_teaching/legal
_essays.shtml>, 2016 (accessed 17 December,2016)
University of Sydney. Problemquestions.<http://sydney.edu.au/law/learning_teaching/legal_writing/problem_different approaches.shtml>, 2016 (accessed 17December, 2016)
1 University of Sydney. Problem questions. <http://sydney.edu.au/law/learning_teaching/legal_ writing/problem_different approaches.shtml>, 2016 (accessed 17 December, 2016), 1.
2 University of Sydney. Legal essay. < http://sydney.edu.au/law/learning_teaching/legal
_essays.shtml>, 2016 (accessed 17 December, 2016), 1.
3 Tom Goldstein and Jethro K. Lieberman. The lawyer`s guide to writing well. University of California Press, 2016, 22.
4 Ibid, 25
5 University of Sydney. Legal essay, 1
6 John Creswell. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage, 2013, 17.
7 Ibid, 19
8 University of Sydney. Problem questions, 1.
9 University of Sydney. Problem questions, 1
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