• Wenee Yap

Using IRAC to Answer Problem Solving Questions

IRAC stands for Issue-Rule-Application-Conclusion, and like a soapbox salesman with a miracle cure, IRAC boasts a very appealing claim: to provide a step-by-step framework to solving legal problems.

It works like this: you have an issue. Perhaps a border dispute involving lemon tree branches felling their fruit in a disgruntled neighbour’s yard. Or perhaps a mere misunderstanding over the launch of a ‘communications satellite’ from a country equipped with nuclear weapons. Whatever your issue, certain rules – certain laws – will apply. For the lemon tree neighbour: law of trespass or nuisance. Add a little negligence for good measure. Perhaps the offending tree might even trigger some obscure part of Real Property Law, like Old System Title, the bane of property lawyers everywhere.

Allow me to take a moment just to repeat that, Issue-Rule-Application-Conclusion. Thanks, I needed that.

For the misunderstood half-country Communist dictatorship, its foray into spreading its purported communications mini-industry might contravene a UN Security Council Resolution or two, as well as a whole host of other related international law instruments. This is not unusual. Multiple areas of law are often triggered within one issue. Multiple forms of legal recourse may also be available. With such a range of laws to possibly cover, the neat IRAC model starts to look rather wishful.

It’s a well-known problem without any easy solution. Or rather, the solution is obvious, but tedious. It involves hard work and few shortcuts. Solving a legal problem – for an assessment, in an exam, for a client – is not about fitting the issues into a legal box.

Drafting solutions to legal problems is determined by your individual writing style and approach.

Our Suggested Structure

Consider the above tree branch neighbour’s dispute. Perhaps the tree branch from Careless Neighbour fell in high winds onto Disgruntled Neighbour’s million dollar luxury boat. Disgruntled Neighbour just happens to be a litigation-happy widower whose late husband’s estate has left her with deep, deep pockets and a vengeful bent.

Your legal assessment may involve advising said litigious neighbour on her rights and possible courses of action. Of course, as a broad-minded ethical lawyer, you will also advise of less costly alternatives to legal action, such as mediation.

Introduction This is a 1 – 3 line overview of the problem, legal issues raised and potential conclusions. This comes right at the beginning of the response.


"Disgruntled Neighbour may have several courses of action available in trespass, negligence or nuisance. These will be considered in turn below and a conclusion reached as to the likelihood of success for each action. Additionally, alternative dispute resolution processes may also be an option, such as mediation and negotiation."

(Legal) Issue

Here, you name the legal issue or action raised by the facts of the problem question, and go through the ‘elements’ of each action to determine whether the facts and conduct of the parties involved satisfy the requisite legal requirements of the action. Give a case or statutory citation for each element wherever possible.

Often, this is posed as a question. If you are under exam conditions, it is also a good idea to highlight the legal issues you are addressing with a highlighter or red pen, or underline it to make it clearly visible to the person who is marking your response.


“Does the conduct of Careless Neighbour A amount to negligence?

The elements of the tort of negligence are:

Duty of Care - Standard of Care - “Reasonable person” or - “What would the man on the Bondi Tram do?” standard Professional standards

Breach of the Duty - Reasonable Foreseeability

Damages - Causation - Remoteness

Note: With regard to legal citations, the tort of negligence is primarily built upon common law – so it involves cases. The foundational case is Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, when one bad snail and a nasty case of gastroenteritis forged a brave new area of law. Various cases have interpreted each element accordingly. Don’t forget to refer to the relevant statute, the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW).

“Was there a duty of Care Owed?

<Write 1 – 3 line answer with reference to the relevant law, applied to the facts of the problem question>

If so, what was the standard of care required? <Discuss with regard to the reasonable person standard or, as required, professional standards.>

Was there a breach of this Duty?

<Discuss by applying relevant legal cases to the fact scenario.>

Damages: Was there actual damage?

<Negligence requires actual damage for an action, unlike trespass. Cite the relevant case that supports this statement.>

Was the damage caused by Careless Neighbour’s actions (Was there sufficient legal causation of the damage?) <Review with reference to the cases on causation.>

Is the damage too remote? <Discuss by applying ratios from cases and statute to the fact scenario.> <Is Careless Neighbour liable under negligence? Conclude. Note here that other actions may be available, and examine them briefly below. Negligence is currently the major area of Tort law, so the other actions – such as trespass and nuisance – may only require a shorter review.”

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options

<A brief mention of mediation and negotiation as an option of growing popularity is all that is required here, as this path is not a legal action. Note that it will not suit all fact scenarios/cases – only where the proceedings are entered into on good faith, open disclosure and where the balance of power is relatively equal, or an ongoing positive relationship – such as that between neighbours – must be maintained.>

Conclusion Review the above courses of action discussed and recommend the best option(s) for your client, with reference to the likely success of each action and the financial and emotional costs, pros and cons to your client.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 8 February 2010.

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