How to start a law essay

A Law essay is a guided piece of research and a critical assessment of a legal question, an argument which may derive from legislation, the constitution or judicial precedent. Legal writing unlike regular essays derives from a very specific structure and the opinionated nature of these papers means that they should be supported by fact that can actually be referenced.

Legal writing is a tricky art. There are no two pieces of opinions in law that are ever the same. What matters is what side of the coin can show the most evidence, and give the best piece of legal opinion based on both argument, counterargument ad fact.

A great legal paper starts right from the grassroots; having an interest in the assigned topic, thorough research and proper sourcing and planning. You have to see both the history, present and the future of the issue in your mind. You have to argue, counter argue, form your own impression and let those impressions be guided by solid facts.

Before you start writing any part of a law essay, it is important that you weigh the scope of what you want to write about. Don’t dive right in without thinking about the amount of work you need to do. It is important to create a plan that will see you succeed in that essay endeavour. Don’t get too caught up in the arguments without reviewing the facts. Remember too that complex legal jargon which you don’t understand is bound to let you down. Express yourself in clear and succinct language and employ appropriate terms where applicable.

Most students go wrong on the rest of the essay because they don’t pay attention to the start. The beginning might be more important than the end in this case. So how does one start a proper law essay?

Check the assignment prompt

Unless expressly provided for by your professor, you must choose a topic. As mentioned, the topic must be something that you understand and have a good grasp of. Make sure that you can narrow it down to a place where you can present sufficient arguments and counterarguments, do thorough research, create both a draft and the actual essay and edit and proofread the paper. You should also be able to check on the references you have included and give yourself enough time to get a third party to go through the paper for you.

You essay prompt will be guided by your professor’s instructions. The assignment prompt may be narrow or broad, and it is important to read and reread the prompt to understand what the question requires of you. Depending on the breadth of the essay, you may be given sources to guide your research and if there is a lengthy timeline to the essay, you may be required to do your own research. Your essay prompt will derive directly from the sources that you will be guided by. If you don’t have the sources immediately, a good place to start would be your local library, the internet or other scholarly articles which you think may give you a brief history of the issue in review or the essay question.

H2: Write Out The Ideas.

Once you have fully understood the essay prompt and what the essay question requires of you, it’s time to build your arguments. While writing out your arguments, it is important to be able to articulate your own opinion while sticking to fact. The best way to do this is to create a draft of your arguments and counter-arguments, then start expounding on these while keeping in mind the scope that you need to cover.

In some cases, you might be required to address more than one issue and mesh these two arguments together. You essay prompt should always guide your research as this will be like your writing and research compass, telling you what to look for and where to look for it. Once you start following the essay prompt and start compiling your research, you’ll find yourself slowly getting into the groove and starting to form an opinion. Remember, legal opinions are highly varied and they may be biased but they should always be based on actual legal facts.

Do thorough research

This fuses with the second part. As you write out your ideas and once you have a clear sense of direction on where your essay is headed, you now need to do thorough research. There are three types of sources that you may look at; tertiary, secondary and primary. Tertiary resources derive from encyclopaedias, bibliographies and indexes. Secondary sources cover commentaries, editorials and textbooks. Primary sources encompass direct interviews, speeches and articles.

Primary sources give a first-hand account of the subject matter, while secondary sources analyse primary sources. Tertiary sources analyse the former two. The best pieces of legal essays make as much use of primary sources. You may be expressly prohibited from using tertiary resources in your essay. You may also be prevented from citing any internet sources on your paper which means more work for you.  As you do your research, make sure to keep in mind the arguments and counters. Write out the sources supporting each argument and do your best to paraphrase these already or write them in quotes. It’s always very easy to plagiarise work unintentionally. Check footnotes, indexes and any citations and also make sure to note any names, timelines and authors.

Start writing your draft

Once you have compiled your sources and done a good amount of research, it is time to start writing the draft. The draft allows you to form a coherent thought process and write out arguments in your own words while giving yourself enough freedom to think critically about how to argue out and offer a rebuttal of your points.

At this juncture of writing the draft, start creating a template or an outline of the entire essay structure from introduction all the way to the conclusion and references page. It is important to remember that your essay should adhere to a certain word limit, certain citation techniques and other pertinent issues to the legal reasoning and structure. In many cases, students will be required to use the Chicago or MLA styles of referencing, and for advanced students or in pure American law schools, the Bluebook may be required as a guide.

While writing this draft, it is important to go through your lecture notes, tutorials and other instruction as you might have been sufficiently directed by your legal professor. With the draft, you have the freedom to make a wide variety of changes as you seek to find the clearest way of expressing yourself. With this draft, you have the leverage of overkill as you are still trying to collect, compose and direct your thoughts.

It’s important to remember that as you are writing your draft, you are answering the essay question. It may be required to test your understanding of a certain legal element or jurisprudence, or you may be required to apply your knowledge to certain situations either theoretical or factual using various elements of the law.

As you build the body of your draft, you motions will get in tune with the opinions you are deriving and the solutions you are forming. Each argument you propose should have background support from legal sources in as much as they are projecting a personal opinion. Maintain debate in your paper and make sure you can offer a comprehensive counter-argument to the same.


Begin writing the actual essay

If you are satisfied with the draft that you have created, start work on the actual essay. The introduction is a powerful part off your essay and is what draws the reader into your world. The introduction should illuminate the essay question within a greater historical context. Most students tend to get stuck on the introduction because the essay question might be part of a greater legal context and narrowing this down absolutely to the essay question might leave one a bit confused on what to include and what not to.

The introduction should bring out clearly what issue you want addressed and how you are going to address it within the confines of your essay. It is important to try and make introductions completely in your own words and thoughts. You might get away with a bit of deviation within the main body of the essay but remember that first impressions usually tend to last the longest and it is important to punch harder first.

Articulating your own thoughts here while sticking to the rules of legal research and sourcing gives confidence that you have done enough research and you know where you want to take the paper.

The title of your essay should be catchy, succinct and smart and should give an express legal opinion in a sentence. The rest of the essay derives from the outline your previously created.