More often than not, questions in law tests, assignments and particularly exams are presented in two ways; (1) Essay questions (2) Hypothetical questions. This, many law students already know. The problem however might be with attempting such questions. How do you answer an essay or hypothetical question to the lecturer’s liking or taste? Well, you are about to find out, as I will spell out basic rules for answering both kinds of questions, along with some templates too. Do note that these are not strict rules, hence, there exist other varieties. These rules will only guide you in delivering your answers/work in a presentable, logical and chronological manner. For this part, we are only going to be dealing with Essay Questions.
Law essay questions require you to give an exposition on a specified topic. An example is:
“AS A GENERAL RULE, A TRESPASSER TAKES THE PROPERTY AS HE FINDS IT. THE ONLY DUTY AN OCCUPIER OWES HIM IS NOT INJURE MALICIOUSLY OR WILLFULLY. DISCUSS THE LAWS GOVERNING OCCUPIERS’ LIABILITY IN NIGERIA.”
Before I give a structure in responding to essay questions, it is noteworthy that you spend time preparing and practicing how you intend to fashion your answers, even before the exam. This is so because law essay questions don’t only require you to apply the law (just as in hypothetical questions), but to think philosophically too. You also need to learn the art of paragraphing. Each paragraph you form should carry different bits of ideas from your essay. That being said, the following are tips for answering law essay questions.
It is very important to always start your essay with an introduction. That alone carries some marks. At the beginning of your introduction, you’ll have to give a general set of statements to capture the essence of the question; a quote, rhetoric, allusion, or any other emphatic statement will do the trick. This will help add some life to your work from the onset, making your lecturer more interest in what you have to write. The end of your introduction should describe what the rest of your essay entails. That is, you make promises to your lecturer of what they should expect. Here is an example (don’t just stick with this style every single time, get creative).
“The legal issue in the above question is Occupier’s liability, with particular reference to a trespasser. Fundamental, is the idea that an occupier of premises owes a common duty of care to all his visitors, unless he specifically agrees not to beforehand. Common duty of care is described as a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there. When persons are obliged to enter a premises for the purposes of business, or execution of contract (e.g. delivering goods), the occupier is again bound by a common duty of care to protect the safety of the visitor. It then brings to mind the question, ‘who is an occupier?’ In subsequent paragraph, a proper analysis of the laws governing Occupier’s liability in Nigeria will be devised to portray this tortious concept from the Nigerian experience”
The body includes both Introduction of the Exposition of Issues.
This is where you pick up relevant terms, principles etc. from the issue of law you are expected to discuss and adduc0ed definitions to them. You can choose to use the opinions/definitions of various authors or jurists or just a general conception. After adducing definitions, you don’t just leave them in isolation; go ahead to expound on the definitions you’ve highlighted. In the event where you are to describe the locus classicus (classic or most popular case) of which a principle was used, do well to exploit the facts of the case. I mean, it’s a locus classicus! Here’s a cue:
“The term ‘occupier’ was not defined in the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 or in the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984. The definition was sought from case law and other judicial precedents. Several authors have attempted to define same. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, for example defines occupier as a person who lives in or uses a building, room, piece of land etc. The court, per Lord Denning in the notorious case of WHEAT V LACON LTD, defined an occupier as: ‘A person who has a sufficient degree of control over premises to put him under a duty of care towards those who come lawfully upon the premises.’”
- Exposition of Issues
Once you are done with definitions, it’s time to get on with addressing the topic itself. You will need to establish your knowledge and understanding of the question by providing sufficient authorities, i.e. cases, provisions of statutes, obiter dicta (courts’ passing comments) and so on, to support your essay.
Well, as the name suggests, this is the final part of your essay. There are variety of ways you can draft your conclusion. One is by giving a concise note on what you have written so far. Another way is giving recommendations to certain issues highlighted in the body of your essay. It is also important to expressly notify your lecturer that you have gotten to the concluding paragraph of your essay by starting with phrases like “In a nutshell”, “In conclusion”, “To sum up all that has been aforementioned” and so on.
So in your next exam or test, when you’re faced with an essay question, I hope you take cue from what has already been highlighted above. As has been stated earlier, learn to be creative (and not static) when answering essay question, it helps you stand out. Also, understand the kind of lecturer you are writing for. Do they expect you to write verbosely or just wants you to go straight to the point? That alone can save you stress and marks too.
In the next part of this article, we will look at how to use the IRAC rule in answering hypothetical question in law exams. Anticipate!
By Tayo Fabusiwa.
Founder, Legal Pages.
Tayo is currently a 500L student of law at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). He is an active member of the Moot at Mock Committee, Faculty of Law, OAU, having participated in a couple of competitions, home and abroad. He has keen interests in Corporate and Commercial Law, Finance as well as Career Development.