Essay writing is hard as it is; now you’re in law school and it seems almost impossible to get it done. Continuing on with Lawyer Monthly’s Law School & Career features, Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, provides Lawyer Monthly with the her top tips on law school essay writing.
So, it’s that time of year- trees are turning gold, the air is becoming crisper and Universities start to welcome their students to the start of a new academic year! Whatever stage you are at in your journey through Law School, you are likely to be writing a law essay this semester- here are five top tips to help you produce the perfect assignment.
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ Benjamin Franklin; organisation and preparation are important for successful essay writing. Firstly, gather and organise your research- think how you will use the material and create a plan that develops an answer to the question. A plan is a working document that can be refined as you write- use it to help focus your writing and ensure you have covered all elements of the question.
Preparation and writing can happen at the same time, start drafting some parts of your essay and this will identify any gaps that require further research. To meet the deadline for submission factor in enough time to research, plan, write, edit and polish your essay. Writing at the last minute is stressful and unlikely to produce your best work.
An essay needs a clear structure- introduction, main body and a conclusion. The introduction unpacks the question and tells the reader what issues the essay will address. The introduction is an opportunity to show the marker you have understood the question. The main body is a series of paragraphs that develop a logical and coherent response to the question. Each paragraph builds and develops your argument. The final paragraph is the conclusion which draws together the arguments and comes to a view on the question.
Description v Argument
A good essay answers the question asked. It’s not a general discussion of the legal topic it should have the right balance of description and analysis. It should explain or describe legal concepts but then go on to analyse, critique and engage with the issues in the question. Answering a question about judicial precedent and judicial law making- would explain judicial precedent and then analyse to what extent it can be argued judges do or do not make law. It is important to ensure there is the right level of description to support the analysis.
Word limits matter
Make sure you know what the word limit is before you start writing as penalties can be imposed for exceeding the word count. You should be able to gauge from your plan whether it will fit within the word count. If at this stage you have too much content you can take out some aspects of your plan or you can write the essay and then re-draft it to fit the word limit. Conversely, if the final version is under the word count go back and re-visit the question to identify any gaps in your answer.
Review and polish
Once you have written a draft, go back and review your work- it’s likely to need further revisions then polish your essay, make sure it flows, and carefully check there are no errors or omissions. Reading your work out loud helps to identify mistakes. Check your references both in the text and in the reference list to ensure they are complete and conform to the requirements of your University.
Remember that writing legal essays takes some practice so take advantage of the feedback you receive from your tutor; identify areas for improvement and work on them in your next essay. If you need more help seek advice and support from your University, there are also lots of books which give good quality advice, including: ‘Legal Skills’ by Emily Finch and Stefan Fafinski which is accompanied by an online resource centre.