A Synoptic Guide to Answer Legal Problem Questions.

INTRODUCTION

Problem law questions are simpliciter, those law questions that tell hypothetical and fictional stories about the relationships between people and then require the student to identify legal issues from the interactions inherent in such fictional story, address the said issues from the standpoint of law, support same with legal principles and authorities and finally advise the disputing parties on their different rights, obligations and remedies using the IRAC method.

Given the complexities and seeming ambiguities associated with most hypothetical scenarios, it is usually important that a student does not hurriedly proceed into giving answers and legal positions until he or she must have done the following;

  1. READ THE SCENARIOS/QUESTIONS CAREFULLY: A student must normalize the process of reading the hypothetical scenario and the questions that follows it very carefully. In the course of doing this, it may be necessary to highlight and underline striking points. Also, during this process, such student can attempt to make a flow chart or chronology of events, detailing the involvement of each party.
  2. FIND A WAY TO BREAK DOWN THE QUESTION: The easiest and most commonest way of surmounting a problem question, however lengthy and complex same may be is to adopt the IRAC method. This method entails the identification of legal issues, identification of the rules of law that applies to the legal issues, an application of the rules of law to the scenario and a veritable conclusion whilst also advising the disputing parties.
  3. OUTLINE ALL YOUR LEGAL POSITIONS AND PRINCIPLES: Having satisfied the first and second requirement, what follows next is an outline of all the legal principles you have been able to sift out of the scenario and the accompanying questions. This is necessary as it will serve as a guide to you whilst giving your answers.

NOTE: It must be noted that the above three requirements stated above must be satisfied within a very short period time (10minutes) at most. This is due to the fact that in a law examination, you have three (3) hours to address four problem questions with different fictional stories.

Hence this, a student must think fastly and smartly within the time in order to be able to address all the four questions.

USING THE IRAC METHOD

The IRAC Method is an agelong rule which has been adopted overtime as a simple formula for answering problem law questions. A good understanding of this rule, makes dealing with problem questions less problematic and difficult.

WHAT IS IRAC?

IRAC is simply an acronym for the following;

  • Issue.
  • Rule.
  • Application.
  • Conclusion.

This formula is used across board as far as the sphere of legal writing is concerned.

HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO:

Mr. Johnson is a renowned and seasoned musical artiste. He is known to have been in this art for over 25 years and has overtime carved a niche for himself in this area of endeavour. Johnson, hearing about the marriage of his friend, Samuel which is set to take place in two days, has hurried to his dry cleaner to get his best shirt, trouser and shoe in order to go and do a performance for his friend on his wedding. Upon his arrival, the Master of the Ceremony (MC), called on him to the stage to make a performance. He was rousingly welcomed by the crowd and everyone kept on screaming “Johnson!! Johnson!!! Johnson!!!’. Thrilled by his performance, his friend Samuel whose marriage Johnson made a performance in promised that he was going to give him 100million naira for such wonderful performance. Samuel However in the end, failed to pay this sum and Johnson has instituted an action for breach of contract. Advice Johnson on the chances of success or otherwise of his action.

Here is a way to deal with this question with the use of the IRAC formula;

  1. IDENTIFY THE LEGAL ISSUES IN THE QUESTION: When determining a legal issue in a question, it is imperative to look closely at the area of conflict in such question. The conflict in every problem question lies in the clash of interest of the characters and the areas of disagreements. You must note also that you’re expected to raise and bring to fore, issues of law only and not issues of fact.

From the scenario we have painted above, what do you think could possibly be the area of conflict and Dispute?

The answer to the above question is thus: After the Performance by Johnson, Samuel who is the groom in the circumstance, being impressed by the Performance and has made a promise to give Johnson a 100million naira and has failed to fulfill his promise to Johnson and Johnson is desirous of INSTITUTING an action for breach of contract against Samuel to claim his money.
From the emphasis made here, it is seen that the area of conflict and disagreement between the parties is on a promise to pay for a performance or an action that has already taken place in the past. This, thereby raises a legal issue which is PAST CONSIDERATION.

With this, a legal issue can be formulated as;

Whether, given the facts and circumstances of this case, Johnson’s performance was past consideration for Samuel’s promise?

You must imperatively note that, for every issue you raise, it must have a direct relation or bearing with the facts of case you have at hand. Therefore, every issue raised should have a related part of the facts of the case mentioned in it.
Also, most lecturers prefer it when a student first gives a foregrounding on the area of law the question relates to. If this is the case, you may have such foregrounding with this format; The above hypothetical scenario borders on the contractual principle of past consideration and the following legal issue(s) is (are) distilled for determination;.

  1. Whether, given the facts and circumstances of this case, Johnson’s performance was past consideration for Samuel’s promise?

The first and the latter formats are right and correct. However, for want good grades, one must always tilt to the format desired by the lecturer.

STATE THE RULE:

The rule referred to here as earlier discussed is the principle of law which relates to the scenario. It is at this stage of your answer where you resort to authorities (Judicial, Statutory and perhaps Jurists Opinions).

This part of addressing a problem law question is very important as it forms almost the fulcrum of what the lecturer desires to see.

When stating the rule, you must endeavour, as time may permit to make definitions of certain important legal concepts which relates to the scenario and the inherent questions.

In a circumstance where the definition is Statutory, judicial of that of a jurist, it is important that such definition be quoted, verbatim, if possible.

APPLICATION:

Under this arm of the IRAC RULE, you are expected to make a correlation of the various authorities you have brought to fore and the facts of the case.

This is of utmost essence as it guides the lecturer and fills him with the conviction that you are well versed with the positions of the law you have cited and how they relate to the given fact.

At all times, you must apply the principles of law (The Rule) to the scenario intelligently and very smartly, leaving no room for ambiguities, equivocations or vagueness.

An example at this point is very instructive;

In the light of the above hypothetical scenario, it is evidently seen that Johnson’s Performance was done before Samuel’s promise was made. This, grossly contravenes the position of the law as stated in the authority of RE MAC ARDLE where the court held that consideration must not be past as it makes such contract unenforceable. Therefore, Johnson’s performance is past consideration for the promise made by Samuel. Consequently, same is not valid and cannot be enforced by the court of law.

CONCLUSION:

This arm of the rule is where you beautifully and intelligently wrap up your answer by making final submissions which reaffirms your position and also advising the party(ies) as may be demanded by the question.

MUST NOTE:

  1. At the start and at the finish of your answer, you may adopt the method of making “submissions” before proceeding with your answer and after stating your answer.
  2. You are not expected to reproduce the entirety of the facts of the case in your answer. Only relevant parts of the fact which relates to your answer may be reproduced.
  3. Write effectively and efficiently and ensure you satisfactorily attempt every question you are asked as Marks are usually accrued to each question and it is a good strategy to have marks for all the questions you attempt.
  4. Be focused and do not distort your chain of thoughts while addressing problem questions.
  5. Make use of proper English language, legal terminologies, Latin Maxims and other necessary expressions.

CONCLUSION

This work is intended to serve as a guide to law Students as they answer any and every problem law question that will be posed to them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ASANAM, GEORGE OBONG (AICMC) is a student of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar and can be reached via the number written above. He can be reached via: (+2347032433815).

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