Struggling to get started on your law essay assignment? Here are my top tips for getting the ball rolling:
If you are feeling overwhelmed about beginning your assignment, slow down and breathe. Then, once you are in a better headspace, take a seat at your desk.
Identify the relevant law
Read the question but do not think about how you are going to answer it (yet). At this early stage, you just want to identify the general area of law (or laws) that are implicated by the question. What area of law is the question directing you to? Then ask yourself: how much do you know about it?
If you know lots, great. You are ready to do some database searches.
If you do not know lots, no problem. It is time to improve your general understanding of the relevant law.
Improve your understanding
It might sound obvious, but a good resource for improving your general understanding of the law is a textbook. Other useful sources are legal encyclopaedias and your Course Materials (!!) Read, read, and read some more. It might take you anywhere between 2 hours and 24 hours to get a handle on your topic, but you mustn't skip this step: it is much harder to write an essay about an area of law that you do not know well.
Read the question closely
Now that you understand the general parameters of the law you are dealing with, return to the question. Start thinking about it more deeply. What is it asking you? What are the key terms?
Do some database searches and try to locate relevant peer-reviewed journal articles. Read them and jot down some notes along the way.
Think about your argument
Reflect on what you have read so far. How might you construct your answer to the question? What do you think the thrust of your argument will be? Will you agree with the question, disagree, or sit on the fence? Where does the commentary you have read so far, fall?
At this point, you might like to mind map your ideas and the key supporting evidence you have found. You are, hopefully, now ready to start your draft. And along the way – think: are there any gaps in your research, requiring further research?
Don’t panic! You just need to problem-solve. Where is the block?
Is it your understanding of law? If so: go back to a textbook, re-read the key cases, or re-watch the relevant lecture).
Is your research skills letting you down? If so: check if your Library has Law Subject Matter Guides that provide tips on the databases, or book a consultation with your Law Librarian). Brush up on your skills and try again. Persistence is the key.
And if all else fails – send your Lecturer an email.
Best wishes for starting your law essays!
Dr. Marie Hadley is a Lecturer at the Newcastle Law School, University of Newcastle, Australia who enjoys teaching legal writing and problem-solving skills. She teaches Undergraduate and Postgraduate students Contract Law, Intellectual Property Law and Internet Law.