22nd July 2024

Ace Ankomah

WRITING PROFESSIONAL LAW EXAMS
(Resharing from February 2018)

Dear Law Student:

At the level of professional legal studies, there are only three kinds of exam questions: Drafting, Essay and Problem.

1. Drafting Questions
You are likely to find these in the “Procedure” subjects, ie Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Conveyancing & Drafting. Here, the examiner will test how well you know the forms and precedents eg pleadings, charge sheets, leases. Marks are given for how well you have mastered and have control over them. SimpleS.

I used to tell my students not to get cute. Don’t design or device your own format. Cardinal sin. At this stage the course is conservative. Go with the flow. For instance a General Traverse will ALWAYS be a General Traverse. After 25 years I still remember it in its simplest form: “Save as herein(after/before) expressly admitted, the Defendant denies each and every allegation contained in the Statement of Claim as if same were set out in extenso herein and denied seriatim.”

Do it like you have been taught. Learn it. Pass the exam. Become a lawyer first and then try to get cute when you get into practice; then your senior will slap you back into being conservative.

I never answered Drafting Questions unless they were compulsory.

2. Essay Questions
This simply is designed to test your raw knowledge of the law. It is not set to any story or problem. You are asked what a principle is or asked to discuss it.

The format for answering is simple. State the principle. Support it with authorities. The authority may be a statute. Then decided cases. Then the writings or commentary of learned authors. All of these would be in your lecture notes. And if you have been briefing your cases and reading the reference textbooks, you are safe.

This is raw power. Don’t waste time on verbose, flowery, extravagant or poetic introductions and conclusions. Cut the crap. The examiner won’t be impressed. (S)he can tell that you are just filling up space with hot air because you are empty. And you cannot find time for that under exam pressure. And no examiner has time to read that rubbish. The examiner goes for the jugular: Principle. Statute. Case(s). Writings of authors.

Show off. If you have time, cite all the relevant authorities. Embarrass the examiner to give you all the “sheegey” marks.

Done. Dusted. I loved essay questions.

3. Problem Questions
These tell you a story and usually end with you being asked to advice a party.

This requires thinking. But the steps are simple:

First identify the area(s) of law raised by the problem. Second, identify and set down the issues raised by the problem. Issues are usually raised in a question form, beginning with “whether…” Third, tackle the issues one after another. If you raise, say 5 issues, you will have to tackle 5 of them sequentially. Not 4. Not 6. It’s like arithmetic.

In tackling the issues you should use the 3 Cs:

(i) CONTEXT: this is the closest you come to an introduction. State simply what your point is. The big picture. Go straight to the point – what are you going to say under this issue? “Kwame breached of the contract to supply mangoes.” That’s it!!
(ii) CRUX: this is in two parts. (a) the law. What’s the applicable legal position? You simply set out the applicable statutes and authorities. Hint. Don’t waste time writing the facts of decided cases unless they have a bearing on the problem. State the principle upheld in the case. Cite as many relevant authorities as time would allow you to. (b) application to the facts of the problem. You do this only AFTER you have presented the law. Set this out thematically relying on your immediately preceding discussion of the law. GOAL: Let the factual presentation make the law inevitable.
(iii) CONCLUSION: this ties your argument up. It is a reminder of what you have been saying. Hint hint. Just write your CRUX in other words. Your CONTEXT presented the big picture. Your CONCLUSION is a summation of your argument.

Do this for each issue. End of story. I hated and still hate Problem Questions. It involves too much thinking. I am cheap like that.

I hope these help somebody.

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