Bar Exam Writing Styles

IRAC, CRAC, CREAC, CRRACC – Why So Many Acronyms and What do They All Mean? 

Comparing Different Writing Strategies for Your Bar Exam Essays

IRAC method, CRAC, CREAC and CRRACC are all popular writing styles in law schools. However, you don’t necessarily need to know all of them to do well on your bar exam essays. The main point of the exam essay portion is that you are able to discuss important aspects of the problem in a logical way. 

Here’s what you should know about these different writing styles:


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General Guidelines

Even though your law school may have emphasized one writing style over others, you can do well on the bar exam using different writing strategies. Regardless as to whether you use the IRAC method or some other acronym, bar exam graders will look for the following in law students’ writing:

  • The ability to spot relevant issues
  • The ability to recall the rule that applies
  • How you analyze the facts related to the issue
  • Whether you draw a clear conclusion

Also, keep in mind that most legal writing for the bar exam should follow this structure:

  1. Identify the issue or problem
  2. Identify the rule and the governing authority to address the issue
  3. Apply the rule to the facts of the case in question 
  4. Provide a conclusion of how the issue should be resolved based on your analysis

So, with this framework in mind, let’s dive into the various legal writing styles you may consider using.

Even though your law school may have emphasized one writing style over others, you can do well on the bar exam using different writing strategies

IRAC Method

IRAC is the most commonly used writing style on the bar exam. It’s also the foundation for the other writing styles; therefore, you should consider this method if you’re not yet committed to any particular style. 

Using the IRAC method is most common in a memo’s discussion section or a brief’s argument section. You should apply the IRAC format to each legal topic; for example, there will be an IRAC under each sub-heading. 

The IRAC method may be used to discuss:

  • Elements of a claim
  • Affirmative defenses

This is a natural-feeling form of legal analysis for most writers because it lays out a clear roadmap and chronological order of discussing an issue. 

But what does it stand for?

  • I – Issue
  • R – Rule
  • A – Application
  • C – Conclusion

Keep reading for more details on each part of the IRAC methodology below:

IRAC is the most commonly used writing style on the bar exam. It’s also the foundation for the other writing styles; therefore, you should consider this method if you’re not yet committed to any particular style

Issue

The issue is the topic that must be resolved in your writing. It’s generally a legal question, such as:

  • Was the defendant guilty of breaking the law?
  • Was a property owner negligent? 
  • Does vicarious liability apply in the case?

You should state the primary legal issue in the first paragraph of each IRAC discussion; it lays out a foundation for the rest of the discussion. Furthermore, you should also give a conclusion of how this issue will be resolved, such as “The judge will rule that the search was illegal under the Terry doctrine.” If you’re preparing a memo, your conclusion should generally be neutral, such as “The judge will determine whether the search was illegal by applying the Terry doctrine.”

Rule 

Next, you will state the relevant legal rule. The rule may be based on:

  • The constitution
  • A statute
  • Regulations
  • Case law
  • Secondary sources

You’ll need to expand on this section so that you can give the test grader an understanding of the legal principles involved. 

  • Begin by stating the broadest rule. 
    • For example, you may state that “The Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed by the suspect or is in the process of being committed.” 
  • Then, follow with more specific details about the rule. 
    • For another example, you might state, “Any stop must be reasonable in nature, as determined by what a reasonably prudent officer would do under the circumstances if the officer believed his or someone else’s life was in danger.” 
    • Any exceptions should then be mentioned. 

In this section, you will not focus on your particular case or conclusion; instead, you’re simply laying out the rules that will be evaluated to determine the outcome of the issue. You may include holdings in some of the cases, but don’t get too involved with the facts of those cases 

That will come in the next section:

You should state the primary legal issue in the first paragraph of each IRAC discussion; it lays out a foundation for the rest of the discussion

Application

The next section is arguably the most important because it tests your ability to apply the law to your own case by comparing or delineating other cases from it. You will use the cases that you identified in the rule section to draw analogies or distinctions to your own case. 

This section will likely be based on precedent in bar exam questions. Hence, you’ll need to be able to discuss the original case or law that applies as well as the cases that came after it. You will then discuss how these facts should affect the outcome of your case. 

  • As an example, you might discuss the Terry case and then explain its initial holding and subsequent cases that came after it. You should be able to compare or distinguish these cases from your own. 
  • From there, you’ll show how these comparisons or differences should affect the outcome of the case. 
    • For example, you might state, “Unlike in Terry, the defendant in this case posed no danger to the law enforcement officer. He was stopped in an area that did not have a high crime rate. He was holding an ice cream cone and could not have easily reached for a weapon if he had one. The officer had no reasonable suspicion to believe the 17-year-old high school senior was involved in a crime or posed any safety risk.”

Conclusion

Finally, you will make a clear conclusion of the case. Use one or two sentences to provide a concise statement of the issue based on your application and the facts of the case, such as “Therefore, because the defendant posed no threat to the officer and the officer had no reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed a crime, the search was unreasonable.

You’ll need to be able to discuss the original case or law that applies as well as the cases that came after it. You will then discuss how these facts should affect the outcome of your case

CRRACC Method

CRRACC is an expanded form of IRAC. It stands for:

  • C – Conclusion 
  • R – Rule
  • R – Rule proof
  • A – Application
  • C – Counterargument
  • C – Conclusion

Ultimately, it follows a lot of the same patterns as the IRAC structure— except for the following:

  • It begins with a conclusion
  • The second “r” reminds you to support the rule statement with an organized explanation of the legal authority that provides for the rule
  • There is a counterargument section

Tip: Consider using this style if you’re working on a question where there is an obvious counterargument you will need to prepare.

CRAC/CRACC

Another popular form of legal writing taught in law schools is CRACC. This stands for:

  • C – Conclusion
  • R – Rule
  • A – Analysis
  • C – Conclusion

This approach uses a conclusion sandwich; you put the conclusion at the beginning and the end of the argument. You stuff the middle with the rule and your analysis of the case law, including how your case relates.

Like with the other writing styles, you should devote one CRAC for each issue you’re addressing. Avoid doing one large CRAC for the entire question; if you have three issues, you should have three CRACs, even if you only have time to lay out their basic framework. 

Tip: Consider skipping the first conclusion if you’re unsure how the issue should be decided. You don’t want the bar exam grader to know you were wrong and then look for ways that your argument was flawed. If you don’t include the first conclusion, you may get more points on your analysis— even if your final conclusion is ultimately wrong.

A very similar form to CRAC is CRACC. The first “C” here is your counterargument; you’ll play the devil’s advocate and argue the other side of the case. To demonstrate, you may say “The prosecutor may argue that the Terry stop was valid because . . .” and include an analysis here. However, you will ultimately want to poke holes in this argument, so don’t make it too strong!

Like with the other writing styles, you should devote one CRAC for each issue you’re addressing. Avoid doing one large CRAC for the entire question; if you have three issues, you should have three CRACs, even if you only have time to lay out their basic framework

CREAC

The final writing style we’ll discuss is the CREAC method. Like with the CRAC, you start and end with a conclusion. The primary difference is “E” which stands for the explanation of the rule; the other letters follow the same pattern as the other writing styles. 

Like with the other writing styles, you will use this structure for each issue. If the legal problem has four distinct issues, you should have four separate sections within the discussion portion of your essay.

The structure of a good CREAC writing may follow these general rules:

  • Your heading should state your conclusion. This makes it easier for the reader to follow your logic because you are stating directly what you are going to argue.
  • You should state the relevant rule within the first sentence of the first paragraph of your writing.
  • The rule should be based only on the current issue, not the other issues you have already discussed or will discuss.
  • The remainder of the first paragraph should elaborate on the rule and explain it. 
  • Discuss factors that affect the rule and that you will further elaborate on in your analysis.
  • Organize your analysis section to match the order of the factors you have listed in the explanation of the rule.
  • Use thematic paragraphs for your analysis section. Begin with a topic sentence to identify the particular factor you will be discussing to create a logical flow to your writing.
  • Restate your conclusion at the end of each CREAC. 

Tip: The CREAC is a good option for informative memos.


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Use thematic paragraphs for your analysis section. Begin with a topic sentence to identify the particular factor you will be discussing to create a logical flow to your writing

Use These Effective Writing Tips

In addition to locking down a good bar exam and/or law school exam writing style, here are some more helpful tips to score you even more points:

Practice Makes Perfect 

The best way to prepare for the bar exam is to prepare for the bar exam! With the written portion counting so significantly, don’t forget to practice writing while also practicing multiple-choice questions. Schedule time each week to practice your writing so that you don’t procrastinate yourself into a low score. 

Additionally, writing out your answers can be a better way to retain information about all aspects of the test. Furthermore, practicing regularly will also help you build up your confidence in this portion of the test so that you’re not freaking out on bar exam day.

If you are testing in a jurisdiction where the MPT represents 20% of the score or a UBE jurisdiction, this portion of the test is worth the equivalent of 70 MBE questions— so take this portion of the test seriously too!

Ask for Feedback 

Don’t just practice writing the essays. You need to also review your answers and see how you did. If you’re still in law school, you might have additional (and free!) resources to help with this, such as a writing lab or a writing professor who is willing to help you out. Additionally, many bar exam prep courses offer free system or human grading that you can tap into. 

If nothing else, self-grade your essays. Identify the sample answer and check if you spotted all of the issues and if you reached the same conclusion. 

Don’t Waste Time 

Bored bar exam makers may throw red herrings into essay questions. Avoid them! You may feel you have to address everything, but only complete the call to action. 

If the question doesn’t ask for a counterargument, don’t argue against yourself! 

If facts don’t relate to the rules or analysis, don’t discuss them! 

Your bar exam essay is not a law school essay; you’ll have about 30 minutes for each essay response, so you can’t treat it like you have several days to answer the question.

This tip is particularly important when you are completing the MPT portion of the test. Do not waste time addressing irrelevant information. Don’t mention cases that aren’t discussed in your materials. This section of the test does not rely on any outside knowledge of the law— everything you need is at your fingertips.

Conclusion

Your written portion of the test may make the difference between passing or failing the bar exam. By following these tips and perfecting your writing style, you are well on your way to a successful performance and a rewarding legal career!

If nothing else, self-grade your essays. Identify the sample answer and check if you spotted all of the issues and if you reached the same conclusion

Don’t Waste Time 

Bored bar exam makers may throw red herrings into essay questions. Avoid them! You may feel you have to address everything, but only complete the call to action. 

If the question doesn’t ask for a counterargument, don’t argue against yourself! 

If facts don’t relate to the rules or analysis, don’t discuss them! 

Your bar exam essay is not a law school essay; you’ll have about 30 minutes for each essay response, so you can’t treat it like you have several days to answer the question.

This tip is particularly important when you are completing the MPT portion of the test. Do not waste time addressing irrelevant information. Don’t mention cases that aren’t discussed in your materials. This section of the test does not rely on any outside knowledge of the law— everything you need is at your fingertips.

Conclusion

Your written portion of the test may make the difference between passing or failing the bar exam. By following these tips and perfecting your writing style, you are well on your way to a successful performance and a rewarding legal career!

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