Law: Legal problem solving (IRAC)
Legal problem solving is a common format of assessments in law. It involves reading a fact scenario (‘the problem’) and explaining the possible legal outcomes of the issues in the fact scenario. Legal problem solving is an essential skill for the study and practice of law. To do this, you’ll need to:
- identify the legal issues in the fact scenario i.e. what laws may have been breached, who is potentially liable and for what offence
- identify and explain the law/rules that apply to those legal issues you’ve identified, including case law and/or legislation
- apply the law to the facts in the scenario
- provide a conclusion on each legal issue.
You will do legal problem solving in a range of assessments including problem questions for in-semester assessments, legal memos and often in final assessments. The format and audience will differ slightly between assessments, so check the instructions carefully.
What is IRAC?
There are a number of legal problem solving models, with the most popular being:
- IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) and
- MIRAT (Material facts, Issue, Rule/Resources, Arguments, Tentative conclusion).
Read more about MIRAT in this article Meet MIRAT: Legal Reasoning Fragmented into Learnable chunks
We will focus on the IRAC model in this resource, but note that there can be flexibility in the use of the models.
The IRAC methodology is useful to help you organise your legal analysis so that the reader can follow your argument. It is particularly helpful in writing answers to legal problem questions and legal memos.
The first step, before you begin the IRAC process, is to determine the material facts. This is in fact the first step of the MIRAT model.
- Before you state the legal issues, it is important to identify the facts you have been provided with, determining which ones are relevant, which are clearly not relevant, and which ones may become relevant once the rules are identified.
- It is from the facts that the issues can be identified.
- The facts and issues lead to the identification of the most appropriate rules, and the rules then determine the most useful way of construing the facts.
Do not write a long summary of the facts. Mention important facts when applying the law, but simply rephrasing the fact scenario at the start of your answer will not demonstrate your understanding.
Let's take the example of Matthew, a 50-year old independent contractor from Victoria who has been engaged for some work by X Pty Ltd (a company). Matthew attends a number of staff meetings as well as a training course provided by the company. Do the terms of the contract referring to an 'employee' apply to him even as a contractor?
Identify the facts
Relevant facts here are:
- Matthew is an independent contractor.
- He has an employment contract with company X Pty Ltd.
- He has attended some company staff meetings and a training course.
- The jurisdiction of Victoria may also be relevant.
- It is unlikely that Matthew's age would be a relevant fact.