Law Review Committee Writing Workshop Notes

Law Review Writing Workshop

TOPIC 1 – SUMMATIVE ACADEMIC ESSAYS 

  • To write an academic paper on a topic, you need to have a good understanding of that topic.
  • BOOKS – Books are a great way to get a good overview of the topic – explanation in an objective way.
    • Your topic will likely be on quite a detailed subject so it is crucial you understand the details of the topic at the beginning
    • The more detail you understand, the more intricate your argument will be and higher grade
  • However, you aren’t going to get loads of marks just by explaining the law – legal essays need to contain ARGUMENTS
  • While reading books you may find yourself subconsciously coming down on one side or another
    • Does the law in this topic strike you as?
      • Unfair? Does it disproportionately benefit one particular party? Particularly in criminal cases, also think about the wider societal impact – does the law discourage someone from bringing a case?
      • Inconsistent? Is there a clear line of jurisprudence (case law) that is followed? Or do cases often conflict with each other? Is the ratio clear throughout the line of cases

 

JOURNAL ARTICLES

  • After gaining a good grasp on a topic, it is then good to read different opinions on the topic
    • These help you fine tune your argument
    • You are never going to think that the entirety of the law in a particular area is good or bad – and this would make for a simplistic essay – it is about honing in on exactly what is positive and what could be improved/ is conflictual
  • Once you’ve read a few articles you will have an overview of opinion on the subject. Can then go on to read other sources that give opinions
    • Case commentaries
    • Appeal decisions
      • Where a particular decision has been overturned or upheld, reading the judge’s commentary can help you understand why
    • Legal Blogs – while you probably shouldn’t reference these, they can be useful to explaining opinion in a simpler way
      • Be careful cause they are not usually written by academics so may not be legally accurate
    • Talk to tutors

 

Writing the Essay

  • First draft = “brain dump”
    • Should roughly outline the main ideas and how you link them with your research
    • Don’t aim to finish all your research before you start drafting – or you will literally never write your draft
    • The goal isn’t to know everything by the time you start but to have a fairly holistic view of the subject
  • How to avoid writer’s block – keep writing! It is better to have too many arguments to choose from so you can choose the best one rather than nothing.

 

STRUCTURE

  • Not prescriptive
  • Tutors do have different opinions on this – some like one long essay and others like headings so don’t be afraid to ask
    • Depends on length of essays – short essays will be jumpy if you break them up into small sections
  • Use your own judgement – do distinct sections emerge in the analysis? If so it can be a good thing to break them up, but if you think it flows well without headings, don’t use them
  • Introduction
  • Most good writers write their introductions last – then you can give a proper holistic view of the scope your essay will cover
    • ‘This essay will…’
      • Signposting
      • While you should mark out where the essay is going in the introduction, try to use more academic styles than this.
      • Should be clear from the introductory paragraph the remits of your essay and the topic of examination
      • Ways to outline your subject
        • ‘Consideration shall be given to…’
        • ‘For the purposes of this article, the contentious issue is…’
        • ‘Particular reference shall be made to…’
        • This piece shall assess the extent to which the new rules regarding …. are effective as a tool of safeguarding democracy.
  • Rhetorical questions
    • Good to set out the topic in the introduction then ask a rhetorical question at the end which indicates what you are going to answer in your analysis
      • After giving an overview of all the issues concerning this type of litigation
    • Don’t start the essay with a question – clunky
  • Headings
    • Meaningful or don’t use at all
    • Introducing a section
  • Possible Sections
    • Introduction – provides a precise roadmap to the paper.
    • Background or overview of the law – perhaps reason why the topic is contentious. Recent changes in the law – how have they been received? Why were they introduced? Has the law not been reformed recently? Is it in need of reform? What changes in society has led the law to develop in this way?
    • An analysis section
      • Different strands of argument. What implications does the law have in practice?
      • Background and analysis should continue throughout the essay
    • Discussion of different opinions/arguments
      • Which ones are strong arguments and which are weak? Pick them apart. Your essay will be stronger if you can recognise weak points in some arguments but also their strengths
    • Conclusion
      • Draws the essay together

EDITING 

  • Before you sit down, re-read what you’ve already written to ensure your argument flows logically
  • Use comments on Word to write notes to yourself that you can come back to
  • When editing focus on the quality of your arguments
    • Ask yourself does this make sense? Have you overcomplicated a simple issue / simplified a complicated issue?
    • Does your conclusion flow logically from your argument?
    • Have you given adequate weight to the other side?
    • Circular reasoning – where you begin with what they are trying to end with. You must prove your opinion in essays. You are trying to convince the reader of your point of view and it is less believable if you don’t back up points with evidence
    • Not convincing argument if you only state one side’s opinion. A good essay discusses both sides of opinion equally but effectively distinguishes between them

 

DESCRIPTION VS ANALYSIS

  • A good paper will illustrate a deep and thorough understanding of the subject – writer must demonstrate they have really got to grips with the subject. However, a great paper will understand the issues deeply, digest them and communicate through argument – command the subject and assess it in detail
  • There will be descriptive sections – you have to give an overview of the law in detail to explain what you are analysing
  • But the critical analysis is what makes it good
  • You’re not expected to come up with anything revolutionary but you can get points for originality by contrasting different opinions in a unique way
  • Descriptive writing
    • Recounts what happened with the law
    • Explains a theory
  • Analytical writing
    • Evaluates strengths and weaknesses
    • Makes reasoned arguments
    • Draws conclusions
  • So what?
    • Its very easy to sound like you’re saying something important when in reality you’re not really saying anything – ask yourself after an analytical sentence – so what? What does this sentence mean in the context of your overall argument? Does it convince you of anything?

 

STYLE

  • Don’t overstate your case – a balanced argument is more convincing
  • No colloquial phrases
  • The best way to learn correct academic style is reading academic essays
  • Simplicity, clarity, precision.
  • Make use of opinions that you both agree and disagree with
    • This makes your points more precise
    • The same goes for cases that go for and against your point
    • cf – latin for compare – used in writing to refer the reader to other material to make a comparison of the topic being discussed
  • Don’t personalise arguments
    • Never use the first person
  • Adopt a measured and rational tone = credibility
  • No abbreviations – for example instead of e.g.
  • Avoid wordiness – Ways to avoid being wordy – making verbs nouns – ‘the judge made an objection to’ instead use ‘the judge objected to’
  • Use different lengths of sentence to keep it varied and make it flow better
  • Paragraph length – varied
  • Length should correspond to different strands of your argument
  • Contemporary flavour
    • A good paper will have a modern twist – even if the subject does not directly relate to modern times, often, particularly with public law, we see symptoms of politics come through in the law drafted at the time

 

AUTHORITY

  • Reference as you read – DO not leave it all to the end
  • Page specific
  • The reason for the reference should be clear
  • It is not meant as something which can be tacked on to signal the writer’s ability to read around the subject- not to show off how much you have read
  • But should be a lot of references
  • Every point and assertion made must be backed up by relevant authority and every argument made will be strengthened if a solid ground for it can be identified
  • Can also get you good marks if you identify minority strands of thinking and discuss the value of these – should more weight be accorded to them or is the current direction of the law good?
  • Use cases – and plenty of them
  • Be very precise in your referencing
    • In an 100 page academic article it is expected that you will reference the exact page you got a particular idea or line of thought from
  • Do not reference anything you haven’t read – the marker will be able to tell
  • Academic sources are regarded as the best because they are peer reviewed
  • Types of authority
    • Varied
    • Cases, secondary commentary, legislation, case notes, websites, government discussion papers, parliament debates etc.
  • Quotations
    • If they are short keep them within the text so as not to break up argument
    • If they are a few lines, take a paragraph break to emphasize their importance

 

REFERENCES

  • Journal articles – Author, title, year published, what journal it was published in, what pages this article takes up in the context of the entire journal, what page you are specifically referencing.
  • Books – author, title, place published and year, page number
  • Legislation – Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003, s4(2)
  • Cases – Milligan’s JF v Milligan 1910 SLT 58. – Name, year, where published, what page?
    • ECHR cases – case number
    • Cases from ECJ etc will vary in how you cite them so make sure to check
  • Referencing paragraph numbers in cases and journals shows real precision
  • Official publications (reports etc.)
    • Scottish Parliament, Official Report cols 1955-1957 (24 September 2003).
    • If it is in respect of a committee, name the committee
  • Bibliography
    • You can include references in your bibliography that you haven’t included in the main text – background reading etc.
    • Organise according to type of reference – books, articles etc
    • Alphabetically within these sections according to author

 

TOPIC 2 – PROBLEM QUESTIONS 

  • I.r.a.c. method
  • Advise
  • Problem solve
  • What is the examiner not interested in? Being told all the law for the subject area
  • The point of a problem question isn’t to simply display all your legal knowledge – it is how well you can deal with the issues in front of you by applying your legal knowledge to the specific issues of the question
  • Citing the relevant law
  • Qualitative not quantitative
  • Rules and exceptions, defences, remedies
  • Grab a highlighter
  • Read slowly

 

IRAC Method

  • I – Issue
    • Usually will have multiple issues within the one question
    • Best to break them up into separate points (number as you read through with your highlighter!)
    • Generally only needs to be a sentence or two
  • R- Rule
    • Don’t start writing everything you know about the law in the area
    • Think about the rules that are relevant to the issue
    • Are there any exceptions that could potentially be involved? Even if you conclude that they probably wouldn’t apply, if there is one that would be relevant you should still discuss it
    • Are there any defences or remedies that may be relevant?
    • Nevertheless, be thorough in explaining the law with correct citation of authority – this means using the most appropriate case for the issue at hand and the leading authority for the general rule
    • Citing authority – don’t give specific facts of the case unless pertinent for the explanation of the law.
    • Focus on the ratio of the case – what rule does the case make or confirm?
  • A- Analysis
    • Very important – bulk of your paragraph will be here
    • This is your argument – applying the legal knowledge you have learnt to the facts at issue in order to reach an opinion
    • Remember you have been asked to advise: this is where you give that advice
    • Make sure to be detailed – don’t make a vague connection to the facts at issue. Involve them in your explanation.
  • C- Conclusion
    • Should only be a sentence or two
    • Your analysis paragraph sets out the detail of your argument – if you truly understand what you are saying you should easily be able to sum it up concisely.
    • This point should be used to state what judgment you have come to upon application of the law to the facts

 

TOPIC 3 – EXAM ESSAYS

  • Contents
    • Structure
    • Key points for writing a good essay
    • Things to avoid
  • Structure
    • IRAC Method
    • Know the law
    • Be relevant
    • Be concise
  • This will cover the first three headings from the IRAAC rule.
  • Show that you have understood the basic principles of what you’ve been learning!
  • Only go into secondary sources and academic discussions if you have shown you know the law.
  • Show that you know what the question is asking – I.
  • Try to reword the question
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the main statutory provisions and case law that have established the legal rules – R and A.
  • State a summary of the legal issue and provide either in brackets or the main part of the essay where it comes from
  • There is no need to reference fully the authority.

 

Relevance

  • Apply the law to the question you are answering and don’t try to answer another question.
  • Use the main discussion points from your tutorials to structure your arguments.
  • Use additional cases or statutory provisions to show:
  • How the law is developing
  • How the law is uncertain

 

Conclusion

  • Summarise your main arguments from the main body of the essay!
  • Keep it short.
  • State which argument you are most persuaded by and why.
  • Answer the question!!!!

 

Be Concise

  • Limited amount of time so keep it compact!
  • Language is very important.
  • Formal but not flowery – more opportunity to use sophisticated language in a summative essay.
  • “Rank” arguments!
  • Start with the ones you need to talk about to answer the question.
  • If you have time move onto secondary arguments.
  • The first three sections of the IRAAC rule should be done in a couple of sentences

 

Things to Avoid

  • Repetition
  • Long introductions and conclusions
  • Lack of structure
  • Wordy sentences
  • Not answering the question
  • Don’t try to tell them everything you’ve learned from the course – you need to stick to the question and show your knowledge within those parameters.

 

TOPIC 4 – STUDY TECHNIQUES

  • What kind of learner are you?
    • Everyone learns differently
    • ü Visual – e.g. mind maps, colour coding, images
    • ü Auditory – e.g. speaking and explaining to others
    • ü Reading/ Writing – e.g. flashcards, condensed notes
    • ü Kinaesthetic – e.g. active learning
  • How to learn cases
    • Case lists – separating cases from notes
    • Identify essential cases for each topic
    • Use lecture slides/notes to do this
    • West law
    • Quizlet/flashcards – https://quizlet.com/en-gb

 

Legislation

  • Statute book checklist
  • PREPARATION! – don’t leave till the night before the exam
  • Use your notes as a guide
  • Colour coding might be helpful
  • Don’t rely solely on the statute book – need to know its contents to use it effectively
  • Don’t memorise and quote whole sections
  • NO WRITING – only tabs, highlighting and underlining

 

Past Papers

  • Look at form and length of questions
  • Use at the end of topics to test your knowledge
  • When studying, you might want to answer questions in note form (DO NOT DO THIS IN THE FINAL EXAM!)
  • Ask tutors for feedback on formative questions or past paper questions

 

VAK Learning Styles Self-Assessment Questionnaire

 

 

Circle or tick the answer that most represents how you generally behave.

(It’s best to complete the questionnaire before reading the accompanying explanation.)

 

  • When I operate new equipment I generally:
  • a) read the instructions first
  • b) listen to an explanation from someone who has used it before
  • c) go ahead and have a go, I can figure it out as I use it

 

  • When I need directions for travelling I usually:
  • a) look at a map
  • b) ask for spoken directions
  • c) follow my nose and maybe use a compass

 

  • When I cook a new dish, I like to:
  • a) follow a written recipe
  • b) call a friend for an explanation
  • c) follow my instincts, testing as I cook

 

  • If I am teaching someone something new, I tend to:
  • a) write instructions down for them
  • b) give them a verbal explanation
  • c) demonstrate first and then let them have a go

 

  • I tend to say:
  • a) watch how I do it
  • b) listen to me explain
  • c) you have a go

 

  • During my free time I most enjoy:
  • a) going to museums and galleries
  • b) listening to music and talking to my friends
  • c) playing sport or doing DIY

 

  • When I go shopping for clothes, I tend to:
  • a) imagine what they would look like on
  • b) discuss them with the shop staff
  • c) try them on and test them out

 

  • When I am choosing a holiday I usually:
  • a) read lots of brochures
  • b) listen to recommendations from friends
  • c) imagine what it would be like to be there

 

  • If I was buying a new car, I would:
  • a) read reviews in newspapers and magazines
  • b) discuss what I need with my friends
  • c) test-drive lots of different types

 

  • When I am learning a new skill, I am most comfortable:
  • a) watching what the teacher is doing
  • b) talking through with the teacher exactly what I’m supposed to do
  • c) giving it a try myself and work it out as I go

 

  • If I am choosing food off a menu, I tend to:
  • a) imagine what the food will look like
  • b) talk through the options in my head or with my partner
  • c) imagine what the food will taste like

 

  • When I listen to a band, I can’t help:
  • a) watching the band members and other people in the audience
  • b) listening to the lyrics and the beats
  • c) moving in time with the music

 

  • When I concentrate, I most often:
  • a) focus on the words or the pictures in front of me
  • b) discuss the problem and the possible solutions in my head
  • c) move around a lot, fiddle with pens and pencils and touch things

 

  • I choose household furnishings because I like:
  • a) their colours and how they look
  • b) the descriptions the sales-people give me
  • c) their textures and what it feels like to touch them

 

  • My first memory is of:
  • a) looking at something
  • b) being spoken to
  • c) doing something

 

  • When I am anxious, I:
  • a) visualise the worst-case scenarios
  • b) talk over in my head what worries me most
  • c) can’t sit still, fiddle and move around constantly

 

  • I feel especially connected to other people because of:
  • a) how they look
  • b) what they say to me
  • c) how they make me feel

 

  • When I have to revise for an exam, I generally:
  • a) write lots of revision notes and diagrams
  • b) talk over my notes, alone or with other people
  • c) imagine making the movement or creating the formula

 

  • If I am explaining to someone I tend to:
  • a) show them what I mean
  • b) explain to them in different ways until they understand
  • c) encourage them to try and talk them through my idea as they do it

 

  • I really love:
  • a) watching films, photography, looking at art or people watching
  • b) listening to music, the radio or talking to friends
  • c) taking part in sporting activities, eating fine foods and wines or dancing

 

  • Most of my free time is spent:
  • a) watching television
  • b) talking to friends
  • c) doing physical activity or making things

 

  • When I first contact a new person, I usually:
  • a) arrange a face to face meeting
  • b) talk to them on the telephone
  • c) try to get together whilst doing something else, such as an activity or a meal

 

  • I first notice how people:
  • a) look and dress
  • b) sound and speak
  • c) stand and move

 

  • If I am angry, I tend to:
  • a) keep replaying in my mind what it is that has upset me
  • b) raise my voice and tell people how I feel
  • c) stamp about, slam doors and physically demonstrate my anger

 

  • I find it easiest to remember:
  • a) faces
  • b) names
  • c) things I have done

 

  • I think that you can tell if someone is lying if:
  • a) they avoid looking at you
  • b) their voices changes
  • c) they give me funny vibes

 

  • When I meet an old friend:
  • a) I say “it’s great to see you!”
  • b) I say “it’s great to hear from you!”
  • c) I give them a hug or a handshake

 

  • I remember things best by:
  • a) writing notes or keeping printed details
  • b) saying them aloud or repeating words and key points in my head
  • c) doing and practising the activity or imagining it being done

 

  • If I have to complain about faulty goods, I am most comfortable:
  • a) writing a letter
  • b) complaining over the phone
  • c) taking the item back to the store or posting it to head office

 

  • I tend to say:
  • a) I see what you mean
  • b) I hear what you are saying
  • c) I know how you feel

 

Now add up how many A’s, B’s and C’s you selected.

 

A’s =                                         B’s =                                         C’s =

 

If you chose mostly A’s you have a VISUAL learning style.

 

If you chose mostly B’s you have an AUDITORY learning style.

 

If you chose mostly C’s you have a KINAESTHETIC learning style.

 

Some people find that their learning style may be a blend of two or three styles, in this case read about the styles that apply to you in the explanation below.

 

When you have identified your learning style(s), read the learning styles explanations and consider how this might help you to identify learning and development that best meets your preference(s).

 

Now see the VAK Learning Styles Explanation.

 

VAK Learning Styles Explanation

The VAK learning styles model suggests that most people can be divided into one of three preferred styles of learning. These three styles are as follows, (and there is no right or wrong learning style):

  • Someone with a Visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc. These people will use phrases such as ‘show me’, ‘let’s have a look at that’ and will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
  • Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These people will use phrases such as ‘tell me’, ‘let’s talk it over’ and will be best able to perform a new task after listening to instructions from an expert. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone, and can remember all the words to songs that they hear! 
  • Someone with a Kinaesthetic learning style has a preference for physical experience – touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences. These people will use phrases such as ‘let me try’, ‘how do you feel?’ and will be best able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. These are the people who like to experiment, hands-on, and never look at the instructions first!

 

People commonly have a main preferred learning style, but this will be part of a blend of all three. Some people have a very strong preference; other people have a more even mixture of two or less commonly, three styles.

When you know your preferred learning style(s) you understand the type of learning that best suits you. This enables you to choose the types of learning that work best for you.

There is no right or wrong learning style. The point is that there are types of learning that are right for your own preferred learning style.

Please note that this is not a scientifically validated testing instrument – it is a free assessment tool designed to give a broad indication of preferred learning style(s).

More information about learning styles, personality, and personal development is at www.businessballs.com.

With acknowledgements to Victoria Chislett for developing this assessment.

Victoria Chislett specialises in performance psychology and its application within organisations, and can be contacted via email: performance_psychologist at yahoo.com.

 

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