The ideal law student knows how to argue in every medium. Whether it be through speaking or writing, he must be able to relay his arguments in an organized and substantial manner. It is not enough, therefore, for law students to bolster their ability to speak. A chief requirement among law students is knowledge in law essay writing.
What distinguishes argument through speaking from that through writing is that in the latter, the law student is given much time to deliberate on his arguments and to distinguish which ones from his arsenal are weak from those that are worth forwarding in his paper. The fundamentals of how to write a law essay are rooted in knowing how to write any essay. With law essays, however, what is expected is a well-constructed argumentation that is strongly grounded in the spirit of the law.
The first step of how to make a law essay is to determine the nature of the requirement assigned. What are being considered here are the following:
The topic lays down the initial parameters of the discussion in the law essay. It is what the law professor will supply to the student, and it is the framework under which the student will operate.
Underlying the topic are legal principles and regulations which the law student must ascertain. As they are not directly stated in the topic, it is left to the law students to identify them and to establish the connection and the relevance.
Contained, also, within the topic is the issue at hand with which the pertinent legal principles are concerned.
Consider these guide questions:
- What legal stipulation, principle, or law is underlying the topic?
- What are the issues being asked about?
- What materials are relevant to the topic?
The question is what the law student attempts to answer through his law essay. It highlights a particular issue regarding the law or a specific case where a rigorous interpretation of the law is required.
Similarly with the topic, the question has underlying legal principles and regulations which the law student must discover and connect to what the question is asking for.
Consider these guide questions:
- What is the main issue being discussed?
- What kind of response is being asked for?
- What legal principles are relevant to the question?
Whereas it is feasible for one to write a regular essay on a topic without prior research, it is highly imperative for law students to conduct an in-depth, detailed, and comprehensive research on the topic being assigned.
As such, the law student must commit to doing rigorous research and studies. This is so that when the time has come to write the essay, the only concern for the law student would be to organize them in a coherent manner, readable by anyone aside from himself.
Writing the essay
With all the significant materials and data gathered, the law student is now ready to write the law essay.
As with any other essay, a law essay follows this outline: (1) introduction, (2) body, and (3) conclusion. There are some key distinctions here, however. Primarily, this is because the law essay is also an argumentative essay. As a law essay, too, it involves a specific set of criteria for its parts and for its evidence.
How an introduction to law essay is made follows the usual formula of a formal essay. Often beginning the introduction is a topic sentence which sets the direction that the law student is attempting to set the essay towards. Typically, the topic sentence is only a sentence long, though it can be stretched to two sentences if needed.
Following that is a brief discussion of the issue at hand. The discussion must contain what the issue itself is all about, why it is an issue in the first place, and why it must be resolved properly. In other words, it is a summary of the issue.
The last part of the introduction is marked by the thesis statement. The thesis statement is the main claim that the law student puts forward which attempts to answer the question at hand. This is a very delicate part of the essay writing process. The law student must make sure that his thesis statement directly answers the question.
The body contains the bulk of the law student’s argumentation. It attempts to build upon the main claim put forward by the law student in his thesis statement.
As mentioned earlier, law essays are essentially argumentative essays. As such, law students must not only discuss their own argumentation but also possible counter-arguments to their claims and their rebuttals to those counter-arguments.
The arguments of the law student attempt to give support to the main claim in the thesis statement. Each argument put forward must be distinct from one another and can also coexist with each other in supporting the main claim.
In law essays, arguments should always be supported by evidence. This often comes in the form of references to existing laws and regulations. Another kind of evidence is through past cases that involved interpreting the referenced laws. These are called “precedents,” and if they made an enormous mark on legislation, these are “landmark cases.” These can be significant to the law student’s argumentation.
The law student can put as many arguments as he thinks is needed. However, some professors require a specific word count for the law essay. As a rule of thumb, the law student should forward about three of his own arguments. This is optimal as three arguments are quite plenty for a medium-length essay and can still be fleshed out equally and well amid the word count.
Counter-arguments attempt to attack the law student’s main claim and supporting arguments. Often times, these are determined by the law student himself, as he anticipates such rebuttals as he does during classroom recitation.
On average, it is difficult for a law student to counter his own argumentation, because he is biased towards his own claims. With enough effort, it is possible. For best results, however, the law student may ask for help from his classmates. He will have to show them his argumentation and ask them how they will argue against it.
As with the arguments, the rule of thumb is that the law student puts forward three counter-arguments to allow for sufficient explanation while still staying within the word count.
The law student cannot simply state the counter-arguments without addressing them. A law student’s rebuttals further demonstrate his critical thinking and ability to argue.
A law student’s rebuttals must show either the weakness or fallacy behind the counter-arguments. The goal is to invalidate the counter-arguments and, thus, strengthen the main claim. As with the law student’s arguments, these must be grounded in evidence, either by referencing specific laws or referencing precedents.
There are as many rebuttals as there are counter-arguments. Still, the law student must observe conciseness in showing the rebuttals.
Like how it is done in a formal essay, the conclusion in a law essay attempts to summarize all the points which the law student forwarded. The arguments here are consolidated as the law student gives a final, definitive remark on how they strengthen his main claim. The law student also explains how his overall argumentation is sufficient to answer the underlying question.
As law students are expected to deliver output that have pinpoint accuracy in facts and research, it is vital for the finished law essay to be read through and through to make sure that it is written well.
Proper grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation are all expected. When it comes to the technical aspect of writing the essay, what the law student must be cautious about is the structure of his essay. He must make sure that what belongs in the body, stays in the body. Any additional argument made in the conclusion must be transferred to the body, and so on.
The most pressing of all the law student’s concerns with his law essay is what must be inspected: the substance of the essay—the facts and underlying research of the essay.
It is of the essence that the pertinent information, such as legal principles and stipulations, mentioned by the law student are expressed properly in the essay. Accuracy is a vital component in a law student’s answer. It is something that he already learns in the classroom with his professor’s use of the Socratic method—it is something that he must instill in his law essay.
A law student can accomplish this by simply reading each line of his essay and looking back at the referenced laws. If an inconsistency or a misinterpretation is found, he may correct it. As mentioned previously, however, the best results come if the law student would ask a classmate to read his essay for him.
Regardless of the field of study, avoiding plagiarism is vital endeavor that every student must undertake, even more so with law students. In fact, law students know much better when it comes to intellectual property rights and, with such knowledge, are expected to be more careful with their references.
Citations where they are due must be made and made properly. The required citation format must be followed to the letter. Though redundancy can befall the substance of an essay, it never does in citing sources. To summarize: when in doubt, cite.
As stated previously, knowing how to write a law essay is just as crucial to the law student as knowing how to argue orally. What will be developed further here is his attention to detail, consistency in writing, and pursuit of accuracy, no matter the medium. Furthermore, as the law student proofreads his own work, he will also improve his reading comprehension, which is important in his future career. In other words, just as an aspiring lawyer must know how to speak, he must also learn how to write.
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