Law essays can be tricky to begin with, as they often require a great deal of research on an ever-changing and unfamiliar topic. Here are some tips to help you create a good law essay.
- Begin by reading the question carefully. Underline any keywords you notice.
- Read through your main textbook on this particular topic. Note any resources they have used in their writing (you can often do this by looking at the footnotes) and make a note of these. You can take notes on what you find relevant to your essay as you go along or you can just store the information in your head for now – different things work for different people!
- Work through your list of additional resources, doing the same as you did for your original textbook. This will probably result in a very long list. Make life easier on yourself and opt to read the most recent sources on your list first, as these will have the most up-to-date information. In addition, the most recent articles will also have discussed, argued for and against and reached conclusions on the listed prior articles listed, so this will ease your reading burden! From the most recent arguments, you should be able to deduce which are the most important older articles to follow up. You may also find articles you did not catch earlier that are gems of knowledge.
- Start writing your essay. Use a plan that helps you tease apart the different elements of the question, to ensure that you cover everything. Bring in new information that you haven’t covered in the course or that isn’t in the main textbook if possible. Definitely develop your own original thoughts as well, backing these up with precedents and other authors’ discussions. Professors like to read essays that step out of the run-of-the-mill and display innovative thinking and initiative.
- Be broad in your thinking. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to law. Think of related subjects such as politics, economics, psychology etc., that may have extra insights into the subject-matter on which you’re writing that will give you a special angle that other students may not have considered (or are too disorganised to obtain!).
- Shorten it! Law essays tend to be long – too long, in fact, as many students often overshoot the word limit! Try to be as concise as possible (use “plain English” and not “legalese”) and only use as many words on an argument as it needs. Write it once and then go through it with the red pen. This is actually much easier on a printed copy than on the screen, so print first and edit with brevity in mind. Remember, a good lawyer will make their points succinctly and will not need repetition to hammer a good point.
- Proof read through the essay before you print off the final copy.
- Submit your essay – on time, within word length and with all appropriate supporting documentation attached. If your professor expects a declaration of originality/no plagiarism, include this as well. Sometimes this is a nice touch even if it is not required as it shows that you care enough to write your own work.
- Whilst proof reading, double check your references. Make sure your citations for journal articles and cases are correct according to the way your university or college expects the citation. A great way to double check is to type your reference into a legal database and see what comes up.
- For legal journals, make sure you check your library’s website to see if they have copies of that journal. There’s nothing worse than going into the library on your day off only discover there’s nothing you want there!
- Make thorough use of electronic journals. Easier to obtain, easy to download and less to carry! They also allow for greater breadth of research.
- You can prioritise your reading list even more by opting to read authors you are familar with first.
- Make sure you read the instructions carefully. You don’t want to write a wonderful essay but then lose marks because you went over the word count or used the wrong formatting.
- If you are really stuck on the word count, you can move some of your argument into your footnotes. But be warned: lecturers are quickly growing wise to this practice and you could find your mark dropping if you rely on this method too often. In fact, some law departments have grown so wise to this practice that they now demand footnotes are included in the word count! Double check the instructions to make sure your law department is not one of these crafty few.