Many law schools teach IRAC—Issue, Rule of Law, Analysis, and Conclusion–as the format for structuring a legal memo. But IRAC is an unforgiveable form of reader abuse.
Under IRAC, the Conclusion comes at the end of the paper. Your poor, abused readers must suffer through pages and pages of legal analysis, without knowing where you are taking them, before they finally find the answer to their question. By then, your readers will be long gone–surfing the internet, checking e-mail, finding another lawyer.
How does any smart reader read a legal paper? Your reader will always read your opening paragraph. If the conclusion is not stated in the first paragraph, the reader then looks for a heading that screams Conclusion. If the reader doesn’t find it immediately, the reader will scroll through your paper until he or she does find the Conclusion. Skip. Skip. Skip. Under IRAC, your reader finds the Conclusion buried at the end of your document. Is this the way you want to treat your reader? Particularly a reader who is paying you to write? And do you really want your reader to skip over pages and pages of analysis?
IRAC betrays a stunning lack of confidence. It says to the reader, “Hey, I’m not sure I’m right about this, so I’m going to walk you through my analysis before I put the answer on the table.” (And it’s also confusing. Some students leave their writing program thinking that the C in IRAC means Cases.)
Avoid IRAC and put your Conclusion in the opening of the paper. If you can, put your conclusion in the first paragraph and label it Introduction and Conclusion. (If you label it as just Introduction, you won’t get credit for reaching a Conclusion.) Or put it in a separate paragraph labeled Conclusion or Brief Answer or Look Here Dummy. (Well … maybe not Look Here Dummy.) But the Conclusion must go in the first page and a half of your paper. Save the detail for later.
I’ll post soon on what format to use instead of IRAC.