Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing

When I became a legal writing professor, one of the first and most surprising things I learned was how important the “IRAC” (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion) formula has become in most legal writing teaching nowadays.  Almost every legal writing textbook relies on some version of the formula.  In fact, so many legal writing professors have developed their own personalized version of the formula that the variations of the acronym form a dizzying alphabet soup:  CREAC, CRuPAC,  RAFADAC, IRLAFARC, etc., etc., etc.  

The rise of IRAC seems to have gone hand in hand with the increasing professionalization of legal writing teaching.  At the same time, legal writing teachers have long debated the uses and misuses of IRAC in legal writing and in legal writing teaching. For example, almost the entire November 1995 issue of The Second Draft (bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute) was devoted to the question of “The Value of IRAC.”

In my own teaching, I have moved away from a rigid version of IRAC and toward a more flexible approach to organization, one that seems more realistic and useful to me.  As has been written elsewhere, IRAC might be most useful as a way to coach students in reasoning with logical syllogisms.  But I find that the formula is not all that helpful for students struggling to decide exactly what to say next in a memo or brief.

My concerns about IRAC have led me to do some research about the history of its use in law schools, as well as whether real lawyers out in practice actually use IRAC to organize their writing.  I have been reading a set of briefs filed in the Wisconsin Supreme Court over the last fifteen years or so, and I have found that the arguments (even the very best arguments) often are not organized using IRAC, at least not the rigid version of IRAC that’s often taught in legal writing classes.  

My historical research about IRAC has been really fun and interesting.  It seems to be the case, for instance, that over time IRAC somehow morphed from advice about exam writing into advice for legal writing in general.  I would be very curious to learn about what you remember about IRAC from your own, first-hand law school experience.

3 thoughts on “Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?”

  1. What I appreciate about the IRAC structure is its focus on issues and rules, and its insistence that issues and rules be stated precisely. What I have lamented about IRAC is its expectation that a best statement of the issues is possible and its tendency to fall into redundancy and superficiality in the areas of analysis and conclusion.

    I have often thought of IRAC as a useful crutch, but ideally physical therapy can get you off it.

  2. “I have often thought of IRAC as a useful crutch, but ideally physical therapy can get you off it.”

    That’s exactly what I tell my first-year students. I advise them to stick to formula until they get the hang of it; then they can go off and be cubists if they want.

    One other thought, which is that I’ve found “IRAC” useful to remember in my own brief-writing. It’s not that I always follow it. But it is useful to have, nagging me in the background, the question, “What’s the application to our facts?” Application is the hard part, and it’s always tempting (for me at least) to let it slide.

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