There is an art to writing legal research papers. Although somewhat intimidating to the novice, once you learn the basics, writing legal research papers is no more difficult than writing a term paper.
First of all, you need to know how to conduct legal research. There are a number of websites which can assist you. Fee-based web research companies include Lexis and Westlaw. These companies allow you access to court opinions (state and federal), statutes, rules of court, Shepardizing of cases (discussed further later in this article), and other valuable sources for inclusion in legal research papers. There is also a large number of websites which can provide this information for free, such as Findlaw. United States Supreme Court cases and opinions are available through Findlaw.
Second, determine what kind of research paper or essay you are writing. The different kinds of legal papers can include: briefs for class assignments, analytical papers (term paper type), bar exam format papers, appellate briefs, and actual legal document filings. The first three types mentioned will be discussed here.
Class Assignments and Bar Exam Essays
If your assignment includes reading and briefing one or more court cases, the method of briefing is easy to remember with the acronym "IRAC". The acronym "IRAC" stands for (1) Issue; (2) Rule; (3) Argument; and (4) Conclusion.
In order to determine what the issue is, you need to know the parts of the case that are in dispute. Often, facts are included in essay questions which are irrelevant but are a trap for the unwary. These types of mistakes are the result of "red herrings." Bar essay exam questions often have many facts that can sidetrack writers. The term red herring is used because there is no such thing as a red herring, thus the name to denote a false issue. The issue of a case is based on the pivotal questions which will determine the outcome. When you write about the issue in law school assignments or bar exam essay questions, it should be in the form of a question (e.g., "Did the Plaintiff commit a material misrepresentation?").
The rule in a case is the law or laws which govern the outcome of a case. For example, if the case involves a failure to comply with the Miranda rule, you would want to cite the Miranda case citation and mention cases which the United States Supreme Court has decided since Miranda which modify strict adherence to the original Miranda rule. Rules can include administrative rules, statutes, codes of conduct, case opinions, executive orders, Attorney General opinions, IRS memorandum opinions, and other guidelines.
The argument is where you use your knowledge and sources in applying the rule to the particular set of facts presented. For example, using the Miranda case previously mentioned, you would argue whether the failure of a police officer to give a suspect a Miranda warning would bar any admission made by a suspect. Here's an example of an argument: "While the defendant was not given a Miranda warning by police, his record of prior arrests and convictions where he was given the Miranda warning put the defendant on notice of his right against self-incrimination."
The conclusion is essentially your judicial opinion about the outcome of the case as you have discussed it in your paper. Basically, you are "issuing a legal opinion." The other type of legal writing is the regular term paper type. The following information is a crash course in legal citation. If you intend to cite a case in any legal research paper, you should know how to "Shephardize" a case. Shephard's is a book which contains a history of all appellate cases decided after the opinion you are citing. In essence, was the case overruled on appeal? Affirmed? Modified?
Here are some basic citation examples. Note that the first number in most citations refers to the volume number of the source and the subsequent number(s) is the page number(s). For a basic tutorial in how to cite sources in custom legal papers, check out the website at law dot cornell dot edu.
Robert F. Nagel, How Useful is Judicial Review in Free Speech Cases? 69
Cornell L. Rev. 2302 (1984).
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) = Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
CASE CITATION (Shephardized)
Children of Bedford, Inc. v. Petromelis, 77 N.Y.2d 713, 726-727, 573 N.E.2d