Law students may be primarily concerned with understanding and memorizing legal rules. But final exams will require you to demonstrate factual analysis as well and analysis is the most important aspect of most law exam answers. The fact pattern on a typical law school exam may include facts of three types: background facts, legally relevant facts, and irrelevant facts.
Here are some tips for approaching the facts on a law school exam:
(1) Your first step on any law school exam is to read the call of the question. Do this before you read the facts. This will give you some context for the facts and will make your reading more efficient and focused because you will know what you are looking for. If the call of the question is specific, such as “Can D be liable for battery against P?” you will think of the rule for battery first, then read the facts with that rule in mind. If the call of the question is broad, such as “Discuss all claims that P could make against D,” you will depend on the facts to lead you to the applicable rules.
(2) Rule-Specific Call of the Question. If the call of the question signals a specific rule, write down its elements and then read the facts carefully, searching for facts that pertain to each element. In the example of battery, you would immediately think of an intentional act that causes harmful or offensive contact with another person, then read the facts and look for those that demonstrate the presence or absence of these elements.
(3) Unspecified-Rule Call of the Question. If the call of the question is broad, you will have to read the facts and recognize which facts trigger a particular issue and rule. Look for facts similar to those of cases you read or hypos discussed in class. For example, if D throws a rock at A but strikes P, you should think of battery and transferred intent. Jot down the elements of battery and the rule for transferred intent, then match the facts to those elements to determine whether there is a valid claim.
(4) After you match up the facts with the elements of the claim, go back through the hypo and see if there are any facts you did not use. Some of these may be background facts that simply contribute to a coherent story. For example, if D struck P with a rock during a backyard party at P’s home, the fact that they were at a party may be just a background fact that explains why D and P were in the same place at the same time. But the backyard party may cause you to consider certain issues relating to the status of P as landowner and D as invitee or trespasser.
(5) Some types of facts are almost always legally significant. Chief among these are facts involving numbers, such as dates, ages, and dollar values. Dates trigger a multitude of issues, including statutes of limitations and filing deadlines in civil procedure, adverse possession in property, and the mailbox rule in contracts. If anyone in the hypo is a minor, it is likely to be a legally relevant fact, going to such issues as ability to make a binding contract and certain sexual offenses. Dollar values are relevant to diversity jurisdiction in civil procedure, damages in contracts and torts, and numerous other issues.
(6) If someone speaks in a fact pattern, pay close attention to what is said. The speech may be relevant to such issues as contract formation, mens rea, provocation, or tortious intent.
(7) Your professor may include a red herring: a fact that looks relevant but really is not. LST – Law School Tutor prepares students for these types of exams.
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