Explanation of IRAC Method of Legal Reasoning with Examples

Explanation of IRAC Method of Legal Reasoning with Examples

IRAC method simplifies the complexity of legal analysis to a simple equation that is easy to understand. Here is a brief overview of the IRAC method of legal reasoning.
OpinionFront Staff
Though the IRAC method is very popular, it has been contended that the strict formula does not leave any space for creative thinking.

Do you think that lawyers speak and think differently? Apart from the complex legal jargon, their way of thinking is also different. If given a set of facts and legal issues, an expert lawyer can easily link the facts with relevant rules and reach a logical conclusion. This process or act is called legal reasoning, which involves interpretation of the facts and evidence of the case, to make a recommendation on the basis of links between the facts and relevant laws. Such a recommendation may be aimed at refuting, establishing, or judging a case.
For example, A had some rivalry with B, and wanted to kill him. A invited B for a walk, and shot the latter, when they reached an uninhabited place. A few days later, B succumbed to his injuries. A is charged with first-degree murder. In this case, the public prosecutor, who appears for the government will try to establish that A has committed first-degree murder, whereas the defense counsel will try to interpret the facts and law in such a way, to establish that A is not guilty of the crime. The judge too reaches a logical conclusion after hearing both sides. Both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer have to analyze the facts of the case and the rules regarding first-degree murder to prove that the party is guilty or not guilty. Even the judge has to go through the same process to reach a conclusion. This process is called legal reasoning. In short, legal reasoning means interpretation of facts and rules, so as to reach a logical conclusion.
Though it sounds really simple, legal reasoning or analysis may not be that simple, especially for law students. So various methods have been formulated to make the process easier to understand. IRAC is one such method of legal reasoning.
What is the IRAC Method?
IRAC is the acronym for Issue, Rules, Application (Analysis), and Conclusion. While issue stands for the legal issue(s) in a given set of facts, rules denote the laws regarding the legal issue. Laws include statutory laws as well as precedents. Application stands for interpretation of the facts in the light of law. Once you go through the rules, you will identify some elements that connect the rules with the facts. The facts may or may not meet the requirements laid out by the rules. Through analysis of facts and rules, you will get an answer to the legal question, and the answer is the conclusion. What are the steps in the IRAC method? Let us take a look.
Identify Legal Issues
Identifying the legal issue from a given set of facts is very important, especially for law students who are assigned with some imaginary facts for legal writing. In that case, a sound knowledge of the statutory laws and precedents will make things easy. If you go through the example given above, it is easy to understand that the legal issue is unlawful killing.
Find Out the Relevant Rules
Once you identify the legal issue, the next task is to find out the relevant laws regarding the crime (unlawful killing). If you go through the example given above, it can be inferred that A planned to kill B, and accomplished his motive. As the murder was pre-planned, the action of A amounts to first-degree murder. State the specific section of the statute that deals with first-degree murder. If the crime is committed in Maryland, the relevant law is provided in Section 2-201 of Maryland Criminal Law Code. State the definition of the crime:
First-degree murder in Maryland is a deliberate, premeditated, and willful killing of a human being committed by lying in wait for a victim, by poisoning, or while committing or attempting any of the following violent felonies: Arson (1st degree only); Burning a barn, stable, or warehouse that contains cattle, horses, or goods; Burglary (all but 4th degree); Carjacking; Escape from custody; Kidnapping; Mayhem; Rape or 1st or 2nd degree sexual offense; Robbery; Sodomy; or Manufacturing or possessing destructive devices.
State the exceptions as well as penalties. You must also go through relevant case laws, and cite those which can be applied to the given set of facts.
Apply the Rules to the Facts
Once you are conversant with the facts of the case (legal issues) and the relevant rules; apply the rules to the facts. All you need to do is to identify the elements that constitute the crime of first-degree murder in Maryland. Match the elements with facts.
A first-degree killing should be deliberate, premeditated, and willful; and committed by lying in wait for a victim. When it comes to the given facts, B's killing was deliberate, premeditated, and willful, and was committed by lying in wait for a victim. So, A's action satisfies the requirements laid out in Section 2-201 of Maryland Criminal Law Code.
If the components of the rule do not match with the facts of the case, the rule does not apply to the case. For example, A and B were neighbors, who were playing cricket. After the match, they were talking about some political issues; when A hit B's head using the bat. B was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead. In this case, A's action was not deliberate or planned, but he was provoked by B's views about the government.
So, he killed B in the heat of the moment. If you apply the elements of the first-degree murder to these facts, they won't match. The killing was not deliberate or pre-planned. This set of facts match with the elements of voluntary manslaughter (Maryland Criminal Law Code, Section 2-207).
Draw a Conclusion
After analyzing the facts and the rules, you will get the answer to the legal issue. In this case, A is guilty of first-degree murder, as his action has all the elements that are required to constitute the crime in Maryland. So, the conclusion is based on whether the rules apply to the facts. If the rules do not apply to a given set of facts, that may not mean that the person is not guilty. He can be guilty of related crimes, if the facts match with the elements of those crimes. If you go through the example mentioned above (heat of the moment killing); the facts do not match with the elements of first-degree murder. But, they did match with the components of voluntary manslaughter. State the probable outcome of the case.
Being a defense counsel, you have to identify the elements that constitute the crime and analyze them with the facts. You have to establish that A's actions do not amount to first-degree murder, and this can be done by proving that the action of A does not match with the elements that constitute first-degree murder.
The examples cited here are simple, but you may come across some cases with multiple legal issues. In that case, you have to solve them one by one. IRAC method can be used for briefing cases, and for legal writing. IRAC method is very popular, as it offers a simple and organized way of legal analysis with minimal errors.