Have you ever read a brief and struggled to discern the
legal basis for the argument (or even what the argument was)? Unraveling
the snarled argumentative thread in such a brief is a tedious task, and
sometimes a futile one. Responding to a muddled brief can be maddening; you must address phantom arguments, risking making a stronger case
for your opponents than they can make for themselves.
Rest assured, though, that judges and law clerks find these briefs even
more maddening than you do. After all, they must decide the issue,
whatever it might be. While it may be entertaining to picture opposing counsel wasting a weekend deciphering the legal arguments behind the
Application for Temporary Restraining Order
that you served at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, that
is hardly a savvy strategy for winning your case,
building a reputation in the legal community,
or—most important—serving your clients’ interests.
So how do you avoid being that attorney with
the indecipherable brief? Chances are that the
major issue plaguing any befuddling piece of legal
writing is incoherent organization. And the best
way to organize the argument section of a brief
or motion remains that old law-school standby:
Remember IRAC? (If you graduated from law
school more recently, your professors may have called it CREAC, CRAC,
BARAC … but all follow the same basic principles.) For each legal argument or sub-argument, you first identify the issue. Then you state and
explain the legal rule that you argue should apply. As you explain the legal
rule, you discuss the facts and reasoning of the applicable cases, to the
extent that they help resolve your case. After that, you apply the
rule you just explained to the facts in your case. In so doing,
you will compare and contrast the facts of the governing cases
with the facts in your case. Finally, you will conclude: You win
because your facts and the law compel the outcome you urge.
I know, I know. I can hear you groaning. But trust me:
IRAC works, and it works because it echoes the structure of
effective legal reasoning.
Most effective legal argument employs deductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning makes connections between a series of
true premises to reach a conclusion. If all premises are true, then
the conclusion must be true. If any premise is flawed, the con-
clusion is unreliable. For example:
• Premise #1: If an angle is less than 90 degrees it is an
• Premise #2: Angle A is 45 degrees.
• Conclusion: A is an acute angle.
• Premise #1: If it’s raining, I’ll meet you inside the coffee shop.
• Premise #2: It’s raining.
IRAC: Still the Best
THE LEGAL WORD by Susie Salmon
Susie Salmon is Assistant Director
of Legal Writing and Associate Clinical
Professor of Law at The University of
Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law.
Before joining Arizona Law, she spent
nine years as a commercial litigator at
large firms in Tucson and Los Angeles.
• Conclusion: Therefore, I’ll meet you
inside the coffee shop.
Substitute “Rule” for “Premise #1” and
“Facts” for “Premise #2” and the structure of
deductive reasoning starts to look an awful
lot like IRAC:
• Premise #1/Rule: A written acceptance
of an offer is effective if sent in the mail,
with postage, before the offer’s deadline,
unless the offer required acceptance by
personal delivery on or before the offer’s
• Premise #2/Facts: Here, Jones drafted a
letter accepting the contract, placed it in
a stamped envelope addressed to Lee,
and placed it in the outgoing mail slot
at the local post office. Moreover, Lee’s
offer contained no requirements regarding the mode of acceptance.
• Conclusion: Therefore, Jones effectively
accepted Lee’s offer.
Obviously, I oversimplify. Most cases will pose
more complex legal issues—like, perhaps,
whether email triggers the “mailbox rule”—
and you will need to spend more time explaining and illustrating your “Premise #1/Rule”
and making explicit the connection to your
“Premise #2/Facts.” And your brief likely
will include numerous “IRACs,” one for each
legal element or issue you argue.
Of course, IRAC does not work for every
brief. But it works for the vast majority, and
a brief that follows IRAC certainly works
better than one that pinballs from fact to
conclusion to snippet of law to fact, or,
worse yet, one that seems untethered to any
The most important principle to remember, though, is even simpler than IRAC: Give
your reader the law first. Tell your reader the
rule that you are going to apply; explain,
illustrate or clarify that rule by discussing
helpful examples from binding cases; and
only then begin applying that law to the facts
of your case.
If you can frame that structure with
IRAC works, and
strong, persuasive conclusions, you will deliv-
er clear legal arguments every time. AZ AT
Welcome to the reintroduction of a
favorite feature on good legal
writing. If there are writing topics
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it works because
of effective legal