IRAC and its variations

One of the fun aspects of having a blog is looking at the logs and seeing what search terms people are using to find their way to the blog.  Many people search “IRAC” so when I received today’s “New on for October 2008,” I saw that there was a new item that might be right up the alley of many people who read Legal Research Plus.

The item is:

The Art of Written Persuasion: From IRAC to FAILSAFE – A Compilation of Legal Problem-Solving Models
By Troy Simpson LLB (Hons), Published on October 11, 2008

and here’s how it begins:


‘A process model . . . of problem-solving provides a useful framework . . . because it offers a systematic, non-random way of tackling problems.’

In my previous article, I outlined some of the problems with the ‘case method’ of teaching law and I outlined some of the advantages of the ‘problem method’. Proponents of the problem method have developed several problem-solving models. I describe some of these models below so that in my next column I may suggest the criteria for evaluating these models.


‘IRAC’ purportedly provides the simplest and commonest ‘problem-solving’ model. Under IRAC, you state the Issue, state the Rule to apply, Apply the rule, and reach a Conclusion.

People call IRAC  a ‘problem-solving’ method; but IRAC really helps only in structuring an analysis, such as summarising a case, rather than solving problems. The IRAC formula resembles less the problem method than the case method, which Christopher Columbus Langdell , Dean of Harvard Law School , introduced in 1870.

For example, one can spot the ‘Issue’ in a case relatively easily; but spotting the issues in an unfocussed problem takes much more work. You must analyse the facts before you can identify the ‘Issue’.

The ‘I’ in ‘IRAC’, when applied to unfocussed problems, presumes the lawyer knows enough of the law to identify issues. Yet ‘the great secret, kept by all lawyers, is that lawyers don’t know the law’ there is too much law for any man to master in his lifetime’.

The ‘R’ in IRAC  considers ‘rules’. But ‘rules’ still leave decision-makers with discretion.  Lawyers win most cases on the facts, not rules. This means IRAC:

‘forces unprepared students to learn the hard way, at the expense of their clients, that practicing law involves understanding facts first, ‘what happened’ and the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the mess that brought the parties to the last resort of dispute resolution.’

When used as a problem-solving method, the ‘A’ in IRAC  tells you to ‘apply the law to the facts’. Yet it does not explain how to apply the law to the facts.  And, as a problem-solving method, the ‘C’ in IRAC too confidently predicts an unqualified ‘conclusion’.

IRAC  may provide a good way to organise an analysis after you have done all the hard work — finding facts, analysing facts, identifying the relevant areas of law, and so on.  But IRAC provides no suitable ‘problem-solving’ model. This explains why IRAC has mutated into countless variations, some of which I outline below.  . . .

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