Answered By: Bethany Marston, Learning Services Coordinator Last Updated: Apr 16, 2019 Views: 7
Paralegals need to be able to understand and employ legal analysis to effectively serve clients and support their supervising attorneys. Legal analytical skills are required for nearly every paralegal activity in which you may engage. Some of common places where you may employ this method include:
- Assessment of the merits of a prospective client matter
- Review of case law
- An aid to help determine what evidence is necessary to prosecute or defend a case
- Practically all aspects of legal writing including, but not limited to, case briefing, legal memoranda, legal briefs and appellate briefs
In simple terms, one of the skills that will set you apart from a legal assistant or legal secretary is your ability to employ legal reasoning.
IRAC is an acronym for each step of the process. It stands for:
Let's see how IRAC works:
One of the most important skills you will need to develop when engaged in legal analysis is issue spotting. The issue is the question or problem to be resolved by application of a legal rule.
Do not assume there is only one issue for each legal problem. Sometimes there is only one issue involved, but in the real world, it is more likely there are many. Sometimes you need to resolve one issue before moving onto the next. For example, in a negligence action, you will want to know whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff before you can determine if a duty was breached. If no duty was owed, then no duty was breached.
How do you spot issues? If you are reading a court decision, you'll probably be told what issues the court is deciding. If you are not given that luxury, then you must determine what legal problem needs to be answered or solved.
Let's look at an example. Suppose a client comes in who has been injured in a car accident. Some issues that you may need to resolve include:
- Issues of liability
- Theories of recovery available - known as a claim or cause of action
- The burden of proof to establish liability
- Defenses to liability
- Measure of recoverable damages
- Whether it is too late to do anything because of a statute of limitations
As you can see, it can get complicated. The key to issue spotting is to pay careful attention to the facts and determine what facts pose issues.
The next step is to find and list the legal rules that apply to each issue. Legal rules come from four primary sources:
- Federal & State Constitutions
- Case Law
If you are reading a court decision, the court will identify the applicable legal rules and will usually spend some time explaining each.
If you need to find the rule that applies to an issue, then you will have to engage in legal research. For example, you may review your state's Supreme Court opinions to determine the required elements to establish the tort of negligence in your state.
At this stage, the law is applied to the facts to resolve the issue. If you are reading a court case, the court will spend time explaining how it applied the law to the facts to reach its decision.
An easy example is determining whether a statute of limitations precludes a lawsuit. Let's say that a prospective client has come into the office that was injured four years ago. You believe the client has a viable claim but discover that the statute of limitations - or deadline in which to file a claim - is three years. Thus, the statute of limitation bars the claim.
The conclusion is the result of the application of the law to the facts used to resolve the legal issue. In a court opinion, the conclusion is the court's holding or decision.
While you have already reached your conclusion in the application section, it is good practice to restate it in the conclusion. Conclusions can often be quite short. For example, you may conclude that a client was a victim of a battery but does not have a claim because he is the one that started the fight and the other party has a valid claim of self-defense.