Irac Method Of Case Study Analysis Err

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Table of Contents

Section 1.1 -- An overview of the FIRAC approach. (An outline, the terminology, and an example)
Section 1.2 -- Don't believe everything you think. (The advantages of using the FIRAC approach.)
Section 1.3 -- Words count. (Includes a FIRAC example.)
Section 2.1 -- An introduction to reading and understanding judicial opinions. (Includes a color-coded FIRAC example.)
Section 2.2 -- Briefing a case Part 1
Section 2.3 -- Briefing a case Part 2
More sections will be added as I complete them.

2.3 How to brief a case (Part 2)

IRAC brief = FIRAC brief.

Do an Internet search of �briefing a case� (or similar terms) and you will notice that some of the webpage titles that turn up refer to an IRAC briefing format (such as How to Brief a Case Using the �IRAC� Method). The absence of the �F� may create the impression that an IRAC brief does not include the facts of the case. That is not so. In terms of briefing a case, IRAC and FIRAC are synonyms. Both formats begin with a statement of facts.

(Note: There is a difference between IRAC and FIRAC when solving a legal problem. If you are given the facts of the case, such as during an exam, you only have to perform the remaining steps, i.e., you do an IRAC analysis. A FIRAC analysis is required, however, on those occasions when it is necessary to determine the facts of a case, such as when a client seeks legal advice.)

Everyone agrees on what �facts� are. But what is meant by �issue,� �rule,� �application,� and �conclusion� varies.

Take a moment to click on a sampling of the webpages your Internet search turned up and skim the contents. What you will find is that all use the same (or substantially similar) labels to describe the content of a brief � facts, issue, rule, application (or analysis or reasoning), and conclusion (or holding or decision). But look closer and you will see that, except for �facts,� the descriptions attached to those labels vary, sometimes considerably.

So, what is going on?

The terms �issue,� �rule,� �application,� and �conclusion� have more than one meaning. For example, I used �issue� in my bare bones briefing format to mean �law issue.� But someone else, describing his or her briefing format, may use �issue� to mean �element issue.� To complicate matters, some descriptions of �issue� do not distinguish between �law issue� and �element issues� and lump them together under the same heading. Likewise, different people may use �rule,� �application,� or �conclusion� to mean different things.

Once you are familiar with the FIRAC terminology, the different meanings attached to the labels will not be a problem. Picking up the intended meaning from context and usage will be as instinctive as realizing that �brief� in these materials does not refer to underwear and �case� does not mean a container.

On the other hand, failing to recognize the intended meaning can cause confusion and misunderstandings. It may also affect another�s evaluation of your brief. For example, if you stated the law issue but your teacher expected to see an element issue, your grade might suffer. Therefore, if your teacher or employer instructs you to use a particular briefing format, make sure you understand what she or he means by �issue,� �rule,� and the other labels.

The most common briefing format out there � what I call a �facts + application� format.

If your teacher or employer gives you a briefing format, or you find one on the Internet or in a book, whether it�s called an IRAC format or a FIRAC format, the odds are it will be what I call a �facts + application� format. By the way, you won�t see that name used by others. I coined the term because, from my perspective, this version of a brief only includes Steps 1, 3, and 6 (heading, facts, and application) of the generic format provided in the previous section.

A �facts + application� brief (Steps 1, 3, and 6) is a subset of a �bare bones� brief (Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). Simply put, my �bare bones� format contains more information. It is a more comprehensive version of a brief that includes everything found in a �facts + application� brief plus some.

To state it another way, a �facts + application� brief is a briefer brief. Since it contains less information, it is shorter and takes less time to prepare. Yet it still embodies the �guts� of a judicial opinion � the court�s analysis of the element issue(s) � so is adequate for many purposes.

The problem is that, while the information contained in both formats is mostly the same and the FIRAC terms used to label the parts of the brief are the same, three of those terms � �issue,� �rule,� and �conclusion � usually refer to very different things.


GENERIC FORMAT STEPBARE BONES BRIEFFACTS + APPLICATION BRIEF

(3) Facts

Same meaning

Same meaning

(4) Issue

Law issue

Element issue (My meaning of Step 6(a).)

(5) Rule

The words of the law that was
allegedly violated.

The words of the rule used to determine whether the element was satisfied, e.g., a rule of the case; a test, standard, or list of factors; a canon of statutory construction; or a statement of policy. (Part of what I call a legal reasoning method -- Step 6(b).)

(6) Application

(a) Element issue +
(b) Use of legal reasoning method +
(c) Conclusion to the element issue

The reasoning part of using a legal reasoning method. (The remaining part of my meaning of Step 6(b).)

(7) Conclusion

Conclusion to the law issue.

Conclusion to the element issue. (My meaning of Step 6(c).)


A �facts + application� brief of People v Kay follows. Comparing it to the �bare bones� brief of People v Kay in Section 2.2 may help you grasp the differences.


A facts + application brief of People v Kay


PEOPLE v KAY
Court of Appeals of Michigan (1982)
121 Mich. App. 438; 328 N.W.2d 424

FACTS

After Kay left a grocery store, two store employees (Berhow and Denessen) followed him to his van in the parking lot and accused him of taking steaks without paying for them. Kay opened the van door. His German shepherd dog was inside. Kay either called his dog by name or said �get �em.� The dog lunged at Berhow�s face, striking his glasses.

ISSUE

Is a German shepherd dog that lunged at a person�s face after its owner said �get �em� a �dangerous weapon?�

RULE

�Dangerous weapon� is broadly defined to include any object which, when used, may be considered dangerous.

APPLICATION

The court followed New Jersey and New York precedents. In State in the Interest of J.R., the New Jersey court held that a German shepherd that growled at and stalked the victim after being commanded to �sic �er� was an �offensive weapon.� In People v Torrez, the New York court found that the a German shepherd dog trained to attack could be a �dangerous instrument.�

As in those cases, Kay urged a German shepherd dog to attack another person. The New Jersey and New York statutes, like the Michigan statute, refer only to inanimate objects.

Both the NJ and NY courts held the German shepherds were �dangerous weapons� even though their state statutes only referred to inanimate objects. The fact that a dog is an animate object did not matter. It is the manner in which an object is used and the nature of the act that determines whether an object is a �dangerous weapon.� If a dog could be an �offensive weapon�/"dangerous instrument" under the NJ and NY statutes, it could also be a �dangerous weapon� under the Michigan statute.

CONCLUSION

Yes

***************


The primary shortcoming of a �facts + application� brief is that it sacrifices context. Even though it presents a large part of the picture, it does not display the whole picture. Information about the law that was allegedly violated (Steps 4, 5, and 7 of the generic format) is omitted.

Why does that matter?

When a court writes a judicial opinion, it begins with both a statement of facts and a statement of the law that was allegedly violated. These statements provide context necessary to fully understand the court�s reasoning (the application step).

When applying the law to the facts, a court will normally (1) discuss selected words of the law and then (2) relate those words to bits and pieces of the facts. The statement of facts provides context that helps the reader put those bits and pieces of facts into perspective. The statement of the law provides context that helps a reader make sense of the court�s discussion of the law�s words.

For example, in People v Kay, the court noted that �the Michigan statute . . . . referred only to inanimate objects.� This is a generalization reflecting the court�s characterization of the objects listed in the statute. Would you like more details so you have a better idea of what the court meant by �inanimate objects?� Would you like to evaluate the court�s characterization and decide if you agree with it? No problem � as long as you have a statement of the law available.

A quick glance at the statute (which is helpfully quoted in the opinion) reveals the specific objects it refers to: �gun, revolver, pistol, knife, iron bar, club, brass knuckles or other dangerous weapon.� This additional information clarifies the meaning of �inanimate objects.� It allows you to form your own opinion about the accuracy of the court�s generalization. And it provides insight into Kay�s argument, making it easier to see why Kay and the prosecutor disagreed about whether a German shepherd was a �dangerous weapon.� On the surface, a dog seems qualitatively different than a gun, knife, or club.

�But I did all that when I read the opinion,� you point out. �So why is it necessary to repeat the statement of law in my brief?�

Will someone else (who has not read the opinion) be reading the brief? If so, he or she will need the context provided by the statement of law (and the statement of facts) to make sense of your synopsis of the application.

Do you anticipate using the brief at a later date to refresh your memory of the case? Recollections, especially of details, tend to fade with time. The more important the details of the law are to understanding the court�s analysis, the more important it is to include a statement of the law in the brief.

On the other hand, if you know the text of the law so well that you can mentally put references to individual words and phrases in context, the statement of law can probably be left out. But even then, including at least the name of the law in the brief will help trigger the proper association.

The same words may have different meanings in different laws. For example, �dangerous weapon� in MCL 750.82 (the Michigan statute in People v Kay) means one thing. �Dangerous weapon� in MCL 380.1313(1) (another Michigan statute which begins �If a dangerous weapon is found in the possession of a pupil while the pupil is in attendance at school . . . .�), means something else. Since the correct meaning of �dangerous weapon� depends upon the law it is a part of, those words cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, they must be associated with a particular law. The connection is explicit in a �bare bones� brief. It is less apparent in a �facts + application� brief.

There is also a practical benefit to consider. When doing a FIRAC analysis, identifying and quoting the relevant words of the law at issue is an essential step. Including a statement of the law in every brief you prepare gets you in the habit of performing this step and increases your understanding of it.

It doesn�t take many words or much time to include Steps 4 (law issue), 5 (relevant words of the law), and 7 (conclusion to the law issue) in a brief. If a court thought it was important to include that information in its opinion, perhaps it is equally important to include it in a brief of the case.




The IRAC Formula

IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion) forms the fundamental building blocks of legal analysis. It is the process by which all lawyers think about any legal problem. The beauty of IRAC is that it allows you to reduce the complexities of the law to a simple equation.


ISSUE

-> What facts and circumstances brought these parties to court?

RULE

-> What is the governing law for the issue?

ANALYSIS

-> Does the rule apply to these unique facts?

CONCLUSION

-> How does the court's holding modify the rule of law?

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Issue Spotting - The First Step

"The facts of a case suggest an Issue."

The key to issue spotting is being able to identify which facts raise which issues. Because of the complexity of the law, the elimination or addition of one fact (such as time of day or whether someone was drinking) can eliminate or add issues to a case thereby raising an entirely different rule of law.

In law school casebooks, the easiest way to isolate the issue is to merely look at the chapter headings of the cases, such as "Personal Jurisdiction" in Civil Procedure or "Offer and Acceptance" in Contracts. The cases you read will also contain language that signals the important issue. For instance, the judge will simply state:

"The case turns upon the question whether...."
OR "We come then to the basic issue in the case."

However, you need to develop issue-spotting skills on your own in order to do well on the exam and become an effective lawyer. During the exam the professor is not going to state the issue. Ask yourself some of these questions as you read the case:


Questions to ask when reading a case:

  • What facts and circumstances brought these parties to court?
  • Are there buzzwords in the facts that suggest an issue?
  • Is the court deciding a question of fact - i.e. the parties are in dispute over what happened - or is it a question of law - i.e. the court is unsure which rule to apply to these facts?
  • What are the non-issues?

Whenever you read a case, state the issue as a question turning on a set of particular facts. See the examples to see how it is done. By incorporating particular facts into the issue, you build a database of issues for the exam.

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Rule - What is the Law?

"The issue is covered by a Rule of law."

Simply put, the rule is the law. The rule could be common law that was developed by the courts or a law that was passed by the legislature.

For every case you read, extract the rule of law by breaking it down into its component parts. In other words, ask the question: what elements of the rule must be proven in order for the rule to hold true?


Questions to ask when reading a case:

  • What are the elements that prove the rule?
  • What are the exceptions to the rule?
  • From what authority does it come? Common law, statute, new rule?
  • What's the underlying public policy behind the rule?
  • Are there social considerations?

The trap for the unwary is to stop at the rule. Although the rule is the law, the art of lawyering is in the analysis.

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Analysis - The Art of Lawyering

"Compare the facts to the rule to form the Analysis."

This important area is really relatively simple. For every relevant fact, you need to ask whether the fact helps to prove or disprove the rule. If a rule requires that a certain circumstance is present in order for the rule to apply, then the absence of that circumstance helps you reach the conclusion that the rule does not apply. For instance, all contracts for the sale of goods over $500 have to be in writing. Consequently, in analyzing a contract for the sale of goods, you apply the presence or absence of two facts - worth of good and whether there's a written contract - in order to see whether the rule holds true.

The biggest mistake people make in exam writing is to spot the issue and just recite the rule without doing the analysis. Most professors know that you can look up the law, but they want to test whether you can apply the law to a given set of circumstances. The analysis is the most important element of IRAC since this is where the real thinking happens.


Questions to ask when reading a case:

  • Which facts help prove which elements of the rule?
  • Why are certain facts relevant?
  • How do these facts satisfy this rule?
  • What types of facts are applied to the rule?
  • How do these facts further the public policy underlying this rule?
  • What's the counter-argument for another solution?

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Conclusion - Take a Position

"From the analysis you come to a Conclusion as to whether the rule applies to the facts."

The conclusion is the shortest part of the equation. It can be a simple "yes" or "no" as to whether the rule applies to a set of facts. A clever professor will often give you a set of facts that could go either way in order to see how well you analyze a difficult issue. The mistake many students make is to never take a position one way or the other on an issue. Most professors want you to take a position and support it in order to see how well you analyze.

Another common mistake is to conclude something without having a basis for the opinion. In other words, students will spot the issue, state a rule, and then form a conclusion without doing the analysis. Make sure that whatever position you take has a firm grounding in the analysis. Remember that the position you take is always whether or not the rule applies.

If a rule does not apply, don't fall into the trap of being conclusive on a party's liability or innocence. There may be another rule by which the party should be judged. In other words you should conclude as to whether the rule applies, but you shouldn't be conclusive as to whether some other result is probable. In that case, you need to raise another rule and analyze the facts again.

In addition, the conclusion should always be stated as a probable result. Courts differ widely on a given set of facts, and there is usually flexibility for different interpretations. Be sure to look at the validity of the opponent's position. If your case has flaws, it is important to recognize those weaknesses and identify them.


Questions to ask when reading a case:

  • What's the holding of the case?
  • Has the holding modified the existing rule of law?
  • What is the procedural effect of the holding? Is the case overturned, upheld or remanded for retrial?
  • Does the holding further the underlying policy of the rule?
  • Do you agree with the outcome of the case?

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The IRAC Triad

IRAC is a good model for first year law students. However, in the pressure of the exam, many students leave out the most important part of the equation - the analysis. In order to illustrate the important of the analysis, I've modified the traditional model into what I call the IRAC Triad.


The IRAC Triad emphasizes the Analysis by using the Facts, Issue and Rule as building blocks. The Analysis is the end product and primary goal of the IRAC Triad, but the role that facts play in forming the analysis is highlighted.

Step 1: The facts of a case suggest an Issue.

The legal issue would not exist unless some event occurred.

Step 2: The issue is governed by a Rule of law.

The issue mechanically determines what rule is applied.

Step 3: Compare the facts to the rule to form the Analysis.

Do the facts satisfy the requirements of the rule?

The Triad is actually just a simple flowchart in which the facts can be pigeonholed into a Conclusion.


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IRAC Examples

In each one of these examples, a hypothetical fact pattern is broken into IRAC elements by using the three steps of the IRAC Triad.

Contracts Hypothetical

Facts:

An old man who is very ill and near death makes an oral contract with his nephew. The terms of the contract are that the uncle will immediately give his nephew all of his life savings - $100,000 - in return for the nephew's promise to provide food and shelter for the old man until the man dies. The nephew takes the money and supports the old man at a cost of $10,000 a year. The old man lives longer than expected and is still alive after fifteen years, at which point the nephew cuts the old man off without further support.

Issue:

Is an oral contract valid after fifteen years?

Note that the issue is stated in the form of a question and uses key facts to illustrate the problem. Don't be alarmed if you didn't see the issue right away. By reading case law in contracts, you will learn that these sorts of factual situations give rise to issues surrounding whether a contract is valid.

Rule:

A contract must be in writing if it is not possible to perform the contract within one year. - Statute of Frauds

The issue immediately triggers the appropriate rule. Again, the appropriate rules are something that you will learn in your first year of contract law.

Analysis:

The Statute of Frauds does not state that the contract must be performed within one year. It only states that it must be possible to complete the contract within a year. Since a very ill, old man could have died within one year, it is possible that the contract could have been completed.

This analysis shows how closely you must pay attention to the wording of a rule. The words "not possible" indicate that a remote possibility of being able to complete the contract means the rule does not apply.

Conclusion:

The Statute of Frauds probably does not apply in these circumstances, and the oral contract is not invalid even though it was not completed within one year.

Conclusions should be short and put in terms of a probability.

Civil Procedure Hypothetical

Facts:

1. Patricia sues Daniel in federal district court over money that she says he owes her.

2. She wins her case.

3. Daniel appeals the decision in the federal appellate court, which overturns the lower court's decision on a technical error.

4. Patricia appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court refuses to hear the case.

5. Patricia attempts to sue Daniel a second time in the state court system over the same issue of the money she says he owes her.

Issue:

Does the fact that Patricia took her case to the highest federal court and lost prevent her from starting the same case in a state court?

Civil Procedure questions quite naturally focus on whether a plaintiff or defendant has correctly followed the rules in bringing a case to court. Civil Procedure generally does not focus on the substance of the dispute - i.e. whether the plaintiff or defendant wins.

Rule:

The principle of res judicata states that once a final judgment on the merits has been made on a particular case, the plaintiff is barred from bringing that same case against the same defendant in the same or different court.

Analysis:

Since Patricia appealed the case to the highest court, a final judgment is considered to have been made on the matter. She has exhausted all of the potential appeals by going to the highest court which has ruled on her case. If she attempts to bring the same cause of action (i.e. the same particular facts and controversy) in state court, then Daniel can argue to have the case thrown out of court using the principle of res judicata.

Conclusion:

Patricia cannot bring the case in state court.

Criminal Law Hypothetical

Facts:

Just as the sun is setting one night, Carl sees that the door to Vince's house is ajar. Carl knows that Vince has a home office in which there is expensive computer equipment. Carl pushes the unlocked door open, walks into the house and steals Vince's computer equipment that is valued at well over $5000.

Issue:

Is opening an unlocked door to a building at twilight to commit a theft sufficient to constitute a charge of burglary?

Rule:

The common law requirements for a burglary are that there be: 1) a breaking 2) and entry 3) of a dwelling 4) of another 5) at night 6) with the intent of committing a felony therein.

Analysis:

Element 1) Although the door was ajar and unlocked, Carl's merely opening the door was sufficient minimal force to constitute a breaking since the nearly shut door was meant to deter unwanted entry. No actual breaking of the door or lock is necessary.

Elements 2, 3 and 4) Carl clearly entered the house, which is not his own. The house is considered a dwelling since Vince regularly uses the house for sleeping purposes.

Element 5) Whether it would be considered night at twilight is determined by whether Vince's face could be discerned in natural light at that hour.

Element 6) Stealing items worth $5000 is a felony in all states.

Notice how methodically each element is proven using the facts provided. Even though something like entering seems self-evident, the fact that the defendant actually crossed the threshold has to be stated in order for the legal analysis to be complete.

Conclusion:

Vince is probably subject to a charge of burglary even though it was not technically nighttime and the door was unlocked.

Torts Hypothetical

Facts:

Peter and Doug are neighbors who hate one another.

One day, Doug is nailing some boards together on the common sidewalk that he shares with Peter.

In a classic slapstick comedy move, Doug picks up a board just as Peter is passing behind him and swings around so that the back end hits Peter in the head.

The smack in the head causes substantial injury to Peter.

Issue:

Is existing malice between two people enough to show the intent necessary for liability for battery?

Rule:

The three elements of battery are: 1) a harmful touching of another person 2) the defendant caused the touching to occur directly or indirectly and 3) the touching was intentional.

Analysis:

Element 1) The hitting of Peter in the head with a board is considered harmful since it caused substantial injury.

Element 2) Doug directly caused the injury since he was physically holding the board as it swung into Peter.

Element 3) The question of whether Doug intended to hit Peter is a matter of fact that must be decided by a jury. The fact that Doug hated Peter may weigh in the matter but is not dispositive. Doug must have known that Peter was behind him and intentionally swung the board so as to purposefully harm Peter.

Conclusion:

Without further evidence, the facts do not appear to indicate the intent necessary for Peter to sue Doug for the tort of battery.

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