A Guide to Answering Assignments & Case Scenarios in Examinations

Answering legal problems involves an application of an almost mathematical logic. In mathematics one identifies an initial problem, applies a formula to solve that problem, comes to a new problem requiring application of another formula and so on until you reach an ultimate solution.

In law (and in assignment and examination topics in particular), very few “single issue” questions arise. Invariably the process of answering a question will require you to identify a start point and by application of legal principles, proceed from that point through the various problem areas which will then arise, to a conclusion. Each problem area should be fully dealt with before proceeding to the next. In fact, very often the solution to one problem may well give rise to the next or may negate the necessity of proceeding further.

In either case a workable system of progressing through law problems is encapsulated in the mnemonic, IRAC. IRAC stands for:

ISSUE – identify your immediate problem;
RULE – identify the rule/s of law involved;
APPLICATION – apply the rule/s of law to the facts given; and
CONCLUSION – state the result of that application.

For example, take this fact situation:

A displays a watch in his shop window with a price tag marked $20. B enters the shop and says, “I will take that watch”. A says, “It is marked incorrectly, the tag should read $200”. Can B demand that A complete the sale and sell him the watch?

Ultimately what is at issue here is, “Has a binding contract to sell the watch arisen?” However, to answer this question other lesser “issues” have to be resolved – specifically, is there an offer and an acceptance?

Our treatment of the above question, (which lends itself to a chronological treatment), would be resolved somewhat like this:
Issue 1: Is the display of the watch an offer to sell at $20?

Rule/s: An offer is a firm promise to do or refrain from doing something, made with the intention that a binding obligation will arise upon acceptance.

The mere display of an item for sale does not of itself generally constitute an offer to sell it either at the marked price or at all (See Fisher v Bell, Pharmaceutical Society v Boots Cash Chemists).

Application: Here, there is a bare display of an item for sale. There is nothing to indicate A’s intention to sell it – other than that bare display.

Conclusion: Therefore the display is unlikely to be an offer. It is probably only an invitation to treat. (An invitation to others inviting them to deal with you.)

Issue 2: Is there an offer elsewhere in the transaction?

Rule/s: As above.

Application: B’s statement satisfies all of the criteria for an offer to buy the watch for $20.

Conclusion: An offer to buy has arisen when B says, “I will take that watch”. B is the offeror and A is the offeree.
Issue 3: Has that offer been accepted?

Rule/s: An acceptance is an unequivocal agreement to the terms of an offer communicated by the offeree to the offeror. (See Hyde v Wrench).

Application: Here there has been no acceptance of the terms of B’s offer. A’s statement is either merely providing further information or it may possibly be a counter-offer. In either case, it falls short of acceptance.

Conclusion: Because there is no acceptance in law there is no contract on which B can sue. Therefore, he cannot force A to sell the watch to him.

You can see from the above that what is involved is a step-by-step process leading finally to a solution. Occasionally, the solution will not be so easily defined and you may find that the answer at which you arrive has to be qualified because of the potential impact of some unknown fact. This is quite acceptable and should not concern you; the majority of marks are allocated to the reasoning you apply rather than to your ultimate answer.

Finally, please note that in formally answering questions it is NOT expected that you physically set out your answer with columns marked, “Issue, Rule etc.” In general, answers are to be written in essay form. You should use the IRAC system in the planning stage of your answer to help you identify the problems to be discussed – and their probable solutions.

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