Answering problem questions in law

The mode of questions asked during a legal exam differs from other disciplines. It differs in the sense that students are presented with real-life disputes which ought to be solved. This is often referred to as ‘Problem Questions’.

Answering problem questions in law has become a hard pill for most law students to swallow, this is basically due to the fact that most students are unable to understand and follow the standardized means of answering these questions. The essence of this article is to provide a step by step procedures on how to answer problem questions in law.

The model used for answering problem questions is the IPAC or IRAC. IRAC stands for Issues, Rules, Application and Conclusion.

In order to make this article more practical, an actual problem question will be provided.

Mr Thomas is the landlord of a house at Goodwill Junction. Mr Chike is the tenant at this house. The initial agreement was for Mr Chike to be renewing

His rent every three months. Mr Chike delayed in his payment for six months.

On the seventh month, after a notice of exit has been issued to Mr Chike, Mr Chike presents Mr Thomas with a document to sign. Mr Thomas who was an

Illiterate asks Mr Chike in good faith to dictate the terms of the document. Mr Chike states that it is a document pleading to Mr Thomas to extend the notice of exit given to Mr Chike to an additional two months. Two months later, Mr Thomas tries to collect rent from Mr Chike. During the process, he learns that the house he rented to Mr Chike is no longer his. It later comes to his notice that the document he signed for Mr Chike was a deed handing over his house to Mr Chike. Mr Thomas intends to go to court and plea that the document he signed was not his deed. Advise him on what to do.

ISSUES

The aim of this particular phase is to identify the area of dispute between the two parties in the problem question. If the question is as bulky as the one stated above, the reader ought to start paying close attention to the question from the particular area in which the conflicts of interests began to occur.

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In the aforementioned problem question, the dispute begins to arise when Mr Thomas goes back for the collection of his rent after the two additional months given to Mr Chike had elapsed only to figure out that the house no longer belongs to him and he had unknowingly signed it off to his tenant. Hence, the issue in this problem question should be written as:

Whether or not the document signed by Mr Thomas regarding the ownership of his house is reversible’.

It should be noted that there are various other ways in which the issues in a problem question can be stated, however, the use of ‘Whether or not’ is most accepted and widely used.

RULES

Rules in this context refer to what the law has to say regarding the area of dispute between the parties or issues in the problem question. In other words, the writer ought to resort to the use of legal authorities in this section. The legal authority that should be cited or used in the passage could be a case law revolving around the issue or a statutory provision. Ideally, before the rules regarding the case are identified, the writer ought to state the particular area in law in which the dispute relates or originates from. For example, in line with the aforementioned question, the writer can commence this section with.

‘The issue in question borders on the principle of non est factum in contract law.

According to Black Law’s Dictionary, the principle of non est factum in contract law simply means ‘it is not my deed’.

From there, the writer can go ahead and identify the case or statutory provision that is in line with the issue. If it is a case law, in order to make the question as brief as possible, the writer can exclude the facts of the similar case and only state what the court held or the judgement of the court regarding the issue. However, it is advisable to provide a detailed summary regarding the facts of the case law provided.

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APPLICATION

This section demands the inclusion of the judgement passed in a similar case or statutory authority into the current case as a means of rectifying the issue. In other words, this section instructs the writer to relate the authority stated in the previous section to facts of the past question so that an adequate conclusion can be drawn from it. Based on the fore mentioned problem question, an example of an answer to this section includes:

In this current scenario, Mr Thomas unknowingly transferred the ownership of his house to his tenant, Mr Chike. This is quite similar to the Thoroghood’s case whereby the plaintiff was made to sign a contract which transfered the ownership of his house to his tenant. The court dismissed such contract as null and void on the grounds that it was signed non est factum.

Under this same veil and regarding the fact that Mr Thomas is an illiterate and he did not sign such contract negligently, such contract is also null and void because it was signed non est factum as well.

CONCLUSION

The conclusion in a problem question will be the section where the writer distributes advice to the disputing party or parties. It could basically be an extension of the last paragraph of the previous section. Based on the fore mentioned question, the conclusion could be written as:

Mr Thomas is advised to go ahead with his suit in court, if he pleads non est factum, provided that he has not dented any presiding conditions regarding the principle, the contract will be dismissed or discharged as null and void.

IMPORTANT TIPS TO NOTE BEFORE ANSWERING A PROBLEM QUESTION

In order to produce top-notch answers to problem questions from time to time, the following instructions ought to be adhered to:

  • The citation of legal authorities during a legal exam is the distinguishing factor that singles out the study of the legal profession from other disciplines. Hence, students are advised to learn to memorize legal authorities while reading for a legal exam. It will make the language of law more distinct and it also equals additional marks.
  • The language of law demands the proper and non-biased use of proper English when conducting any form of legal research or during the course of answering legal questions. Therefore, students are advised to display the answers to their problem questions in well constructed English with all necessary punctuation, quotations, commas and full stops intact.
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