The Structure of Law Essays
I can help you get first class marks. I can show you simple ways of becoming an amazing legal author. In this document I will provide you with some key tips on writing introductions. I will help you understand why those tips are important. And I will provide you with examples to help you use those tips. If you read this document and practise writing introductions – you will be a better writer and you will get better marks. See what I did there? See how I tried to capture your attention and get you to read on? See how you understand what to expect of this document? That’s the whole point of an introduction.
Think of any great book that you have read or any great film that you have watched. The first few paragraphs or scenes are designed to grab you, to make you want more. There’s fundamentally nothing different with an introduction to a law essay (save that, if you write a bad introduction, your tutors have no choice over whether or not they carry on reading… ) So, some top tips for writing introductions: 1. Have an introduction. It is amazing the number of students who start writing the answer to the essay question without an introduction. Let me be clear. Not writing an introduction will mean you losing serious marks.
The answer lies in good preparation. Think back to any exam in which you had to write an essay. Did you see anyone pick up the paper, read the question and immediately begin writing? These are the people you should be worried about. The best students read a question and take some time to think about and prepare their answers. They don’t start furiously scribbling. By taking some time out for prep, you will be able to really understand the question and what it is asking of you and, as a consequence, you will be able to demonstrate to the reader your mastery of the question in the introduction to the essay.
Of course, this is much easier in non-exam based essays (where you can, and should, go back and edit your introduction after you have written the entire essay). 2. Think of context and opening lines. Essay questions in law tend to be on one big topic, from which you are asked to discuss/analyse/critically evaluate/review (etc) one small part. While your answer will have to focus on the sub-topic, you can grab the reader’s attention by giving context to the wider topic, by showing why what you are talking about is interesting/important/significant.
Let me give you two examples: one from Company Law; and one from Environmental Law. Example 1 – Company Law Question: The derivative claim in s260ff of the Companies Act 2006 is ineffective and in need of reform. Discuss. Opening Line: “Remedies granted to shareholders to challenge corporate decision making are a means of calling company directors to account, particularly in situations where ownership and control of large corporations are disparate.
The derivative claim, in s260ff of the Companies Act 2006… ” [Here, the question asks you about derivative claims, but if you study company law, you will know that these are but one of three main mechanisms by which shareholders can challenge decisions made by company directors. This opening line shows that (a) you know where the question fits in to the topics you have studied and (b) you are aware of context (that is, what the topic is ‘about’)] Example 2 – Environmental Law
Question: “Critically evaluate the ‘information as regulation’ aspects of Opening line: “Chemicals regulation in the EU attempts to reconcile promotion of innovation in a fundamentally key industry sector with the protection of human health and the environment. the EU’s primary vehicle for chemicals regulation, contains… ” [As with the Company Law example, here you are showing that you understand the wider context and that you understand why the question, and the larger topic, are so challenging. ] 3. Have a clear line of argument.
The reader needs to know, in broad terms, what you are going to say to know whether it is worth reading on. Telling them what you will be arguing also helps them understand whether you are saying something persuasive and, at a more basic level, helps them understand what it is you are trying to say. As Jo Hunt says, writing a law essay is not like writing a detective novel. No one wants to wait until the last line for the big reveal, to find out “whodunit”. Instead, you need to be telling your reader, in your introduction, exactly what your conclusion is going to be.
As Richard Moorhead comments, “Outside of fiction, and interestingly judicial judgments, writing should generally not be a magical mystery tour. The best writing generally tells the reader what they will learn from reading the full text and it does so very early on (in the introduction). So if the question is, Do you think capital punishment is right or wrong, you would say from the outset of the essay what your line is. Say, “I will argue that capital punishment is wrong. ” Or, “I will argue that capital punishment is right for certain types of offence. ”” 4. Keep it short and keep it snappy.
The introduction introduces. It doesn’t give everything in full detail. That’s what the body of your essay is for. So, in exam conditions where you have 45 minutes – 1 hour for an answer, you’re probably looking at no more than a couple of paragraphs. In summative work (or work in non-exam conditions), try and keep your introduction to no more than 10% of the total word count. This figure, 10%, is not a magic number. It’s just a rough guide. Be sensible. Remember that the Introduction is not the be-all and end-all; it’s simply the start of your essay (which then has to deliver on what you promised in the introduction). . Show you understand what the question asks of you. Show that you have a clear grasp of the question and its various limbs. This goes back to the need for preparation.
Take time to really interrogate the question and to work out the various elements you will need to discuss/review/present (etc) to give a full and in depth answer to the question set. Also remember to actually answer the question that’s been set. So many students simply give a stock answer to a question they have on Topic X in their head, without fully paying attention to what the question is asking of them. 6. Say what you’re saying.
Give the reader an idea of how your answer will be structured. This will let them know (a) whether they want to read on and (b) what sort of grasp you have of the question. A good structure is a sign of the author’s command of the material: they show they are on top of the subject and will be taking the reader through the material in a logical order. It also makes the essay easier to understand. The reader knows what to expect when. If you go and look at articles printed in leading journals, you will see different approaches to structure in introductions. Some people are mechanical.
They say, “First, I will look at… Then I will look at… Then I will go on to discuss… ”. This is fine is you are pressed for time, but you might try and be a little more creative. Say, in Tort, you have been given the following question: ““It is all too easy to criticise the tort system. In practice, it works well. ” Discuss” – here, you could say “First, I will look at the criticisms of the Tort system. Then I will look at arguments in favour of the current system. ” While this gives the reader an idea of how your answer will be structured, it is not very sophisticated.
Instead, how about, The first part of this paper will review and evaluate the theoretical and practical critiques of the current Tort system. The second looks at reforms to Tort introduced to date that have sought to improve on existing deficiencies. Thirdly, I will consider alternative compensation mechanisms to Tort, both in the UK and elsewhere. This paper concludes by arguing that… ” Sometimes a really excellent introduction breaks their argument into subsections and uses that breaking up of the argument as a structure. This has the benefit of structuring the essay and providing the reader with a really good route-map for the essay’s argument.
So, to develop the previous example: Tort is the critical means by which individuals can right the wrongs inflicted on them by others. I will argue that a pragmatic defence of the tort system, which suggests it is working reasonably well, is not supported by close analysis of any aspect of the tot system. Firstly, I will show how the theoretical underpinning of the tort system is incoherent. Secondly, I will demonstrate how the practical underpinnings of the system fail to meet basic expectations of any system of redress.
Thirdly, I will show how domestic reform of tort systems have failed to grapple with these theoretical and practical problems. I will conclude by outlining genuine alternatives to the current systems which will better meet the expectations of a system of redress. This kind of approach provides a clear structure and actually begins to develop the line of argument which the introduction has set out. The reader can then begin to judge for themselves whether this essay is going to say anything which interests them or from which they might learn.
The idea is that the introduction should navigate the reader around the main body of the essay. 7. Don’t rewrite the question in your own words. The examiner will have written the question. They know what it says. They don’t need you to tell them what it says. So, if the question, in Land, says, “Squatting can never be justified morally or legally”, don’t regurgitate the question and put in your introduction, “This question requires a discussion of whether squatting can ever be justified morally or legally”. 8. Engage with the question.
I realise that most of the time, most of you will not care about various questions in law. You will not have sleepless nights thinking about the scope and nature of legitimate expectations or the teleological approach of the ECJ. But when it comes to writing an essay question, you have to pretend to care a little bit. You have to put aside your boredom of Criminal Law/Trusts/Land Law/[insert name here of module you do not like] and show the examiner that you are engaged with the issue. One of the ways you can do is that by having an opinion/argument.
So, if the question says to you, “Recklessness in Criminal Law should always be judged by an objective standard”, have an opinion (one way or the other) on that standard. It doesn’t matter if you don’t 110% passionately and whole heartedly feel/care about that opinion, just have one. Essays are arguments, not descriptions. So, the thing to take away from this tip is: have a point and get it across in the introduction. 9. Remember: this is law, not theatre studies. Your introduction needs to be clear, concise, well structured and to have a point/an opinion.
It shouldn’t be overly flamboyant or written like the start of an opinion piece in a tabloid newspaper. So, in response to the question, “The Contract (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 has had a limited effect on the doctrine of privity of contract”, don’t write “The 1999 Act is a travesty and a disgrace and should be abolished forthwith”. You have to strike a balance between grabbing the attention of the reader, while still writing ‘like a lawyer’. 10. And, finally, remember that the introduction is the first thing the reader sees. And it’s the first thing the examiner who comes to mark your essay knows of you and your abilities.
Make it count and keep the reader/examiner happy. Structuring Your Introduction With the above in mind, here is one way you could structure your introductions. There is no magical rule here and the following is but one way of structuring: •Give context/the framework in which the topic operates. This will require some thought (and hopefully will be something you have thought about before the exam/before you come to write your essay). What you are looking for here is a general statement on the topic, what is the topic ‘about’. •Start to narrow down from the large topic/framework to the specific question set (i. e. o from the general to particular) •
Give a map of how your essay will look •Give the statement of your thesis (that is, show your engagement/give your opinion or view) To help you with introductions, I have pulled together, in the following pages, some examples from a number of subjects. In each example, there is a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ introduction. You should look at these examples and work out why the ‘good’ introductions are ‘good’ and why the ‘bad’ introductions are ‘bad’.