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Law: Legal problem solving (IRAC)

Legal problem solving is a common format of assessments in law. It involves reading a fact scenario (‘the problem’) and explaining the possible legal outcomes of the issues in the fact scenario. Legal problem solving is an essential skill for the study and practice of law. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • identify the legal issues in the fact scenario i.e. what laws may have been breached, who is potentially liable and for what offence
  • identify and explain the law/rules that apply to those legal issues you’ve identified, including case law and/or legislation
  • apply the law to the facts in the scenario
  • provide a conclusion on each legal issue.

You will do legal problem solving in a range of assessments including problem questions for in-semester assessments, legal memos and often in final assessments. The format and audience will differ slightly between assessments, so check the instructions carefully.

What is IRAC?

There are a number of legal problem solving models, with the most popular being:

  • IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) and
  • MIRAT (Material facts, Issue, Rule/Resources, Arguments, Tentative conclusion).

Read more about MIRAT in this article Meet MIRAT: Legal Reasoning Fragmented into Learnable chunks

We will focus on the IRAC model in this resource, but note that there can be flexibility in the use of the models.

The IRAC methodology is useful to help you organise your legal analysis so that the reader can follow your argument. It is particularly helpful in writing answers to legal problem questions and legal memos.

The first step, before you begin the IRAC process, is to determine the material facts. This is in fact the first step of the MIRAT model.

  • Before you state the legal issues, it is important to identify the facts you have been provided with, determining which ones are relevant, which are clearly not relevant, and which ones may become relevant once the rules are identified.
  • It is from the facts that the issues can be identified.
  • The facts and issues lead to the identification of the most appropriate rules, and the rules then determine the most useful way of construing the facts.

Do not write a long summary of the facts. Mention important facts when applying the law, but simply rephrasing the fact scenario at the start of your answer will not demonstrate your understanding.

Let's take the example of Matthew, a 50-year old independent contractor from Victoria who has been engaged for some work by X Pty Ltd (a company). Matthew attends a number of staff meetings as well as a training course provided by the company. Do the terms of the contract referring to an 'employee' apply to him even as a contractor?

Identify the facts

Relevant facts here are:

  • Matthew is an independent contractor.
  • He has an employment contract with company X Pty Ltd.
  • He has attended some company staff meetings and a training course.
  • The jurisdiction of Victoria may also be relevant.
  • It is unlikely that Matthew's age would be a relevant fact.

Navigating this resource

You can navigate the pages in this resource by either clicking on the page links here or by clicking the navigation buttons below.

Issue: Identify and state the issues

Rule: identify and state the rules, apply: apply the rules to the problem.

legal requirements for problem solving

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2.1  Problem-solving

Being able to solve problems is an important skill. Problem-style questions require learners to identify and explain the correct legal principles and to use their reasoning skills to apply the law to facts of the problem-style question. That is a skill that needs to be practised and Activities 2 and 3 provide an opportunity to do this.

Problem-style questions invariably present a hypothetical set of facts and involve one or more legal issues and are often based on existing case law. When approaching a problem-style question you should:

  • read the question carefully
  • read the law carefully
  • analyse the facts you have been given
  • apply the law to the facts you have been given
  • organise your answer carefully.

Problem-solving is important in law as one of the ways in which law is used is to resolve problems. Activity 2 asks you to read the law: Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Activity 3 then asks you to apply that knowledge to reach a conclusion.

Box 1 Article 6 ECHR

Right to a fair trial

  • In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
  • Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
  • a. to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
  • b. to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
  • c. to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
  • d. to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
  • e. to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

Activity 2 The right to a fair trial: Article 6 ECHR

To complete this activity you will need to carefully read Article 6 of the ECHR in Box 1 above. Once you have read Article 6 and familiarised yourself with the rights it contains, answer the questions that follow.

  • a. What rights are outlined by Article 6(1)?
  • b. What does Article 6(1) say about judgment?
  • c. What is the presumption of innocence?
  • d. What minimum rights are contained in Article 6(3)?

The answers we gave to the questions were as follows.

Question a.

In any civil or criminal matter everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing. The hearing must take place within a reasonable timescale. The hearing must be before a court or tribunal which has been properly created and is independent and impartial. (I also noted that ‘reasonable time’ is not defined, nor are the words ‘independent’ and ‘impartial’.)

Question b.

The starting point is that the judgment of the court or tribunal should be given publicly. In certain circumstances, however, the press and public may be excluded. The list of circumstances ranged from public order, in the interest of morals, national security, in the interests of young offenders, and for the protection of private life, where it would be prejudicial to the interests of justice.

Question c.

The presumption of innocence means that until someone is found guilty according to the law they are presumed innocent. There was no definition of ‘according to the law’.

Question d.

The minimum rights are to:

  • be informed promptly of the charge they face in a language they understand
  • be informed of the nature of the charge and the circumstances leading to the charge
  • have adequate time to prepare a defence
  • provide a defence, either in person, through legal assistance of their choosing, or with the help of free legal assistance (which is provided when the interest of justice requires legal representation)
  • examine witnesses (both for and against them)
  • ensure all witnesses are to be treated in the same way
  • have an interpreter if they cannot speak or understand the language of the court.

You should now attempt Activity 3.

Activity 3 What amounts to a fair trial?

Using the knowledge gained from Activity 2, read each of the scenarios that follow. Based on your knowledge of Article 6, decide in each scenario whether there has been a breach of that article.

  • a. Ben is found guilty of theft. He complains that the judge frequently interrupted, both when he was giving evidence and when his defence advocate was questioning witnesses. The court record shows that there were numerous interruptions. The case goes to appeal. Is Ben’s conviction unsafe?
  • b. A government minister drafts some legislation. A few years later the minister becomes a judge and hears a case which involves discussion of the legislation they drafted. Should they hear the case?
  • c. Melanie brings a case against her employer to an employment appeal tribunal (EAT). She finds out that the advocate representing her employer also sits as a part-time chair of an EAT. She discovers that in their role as chair of the EAT the advocate had previously worked with the lay members of the tribunal which was hearing her case. She is concerned that the lay members may be biased when hearing her case.

Each of the scenarios was based on facts considered by the courts. Their decisions were as follows:

  • a. The facts are based on CG v UK [2002] 34 EHRR 34. The case was heard by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR took account of the appeal and made a careful examination of the case. It found that there were interruptions; some of these were due to misunderstandings but they had not interrupted the flow or development of the defence case. The ECtHR held by a majority that Article 6 had not been breached. In our scenario Ben’s conviction would not be unsafe.
  • b. The facts here are based on Davidson v Scottish Ministers [2004] UKHRR 1079. The case came before the House of Lords. Here Lord Hardie had been a government minister. As part of his role he helped draft and promote a piece of legislation. When he subsequently became a judge he was required to rule on the effect of the legislation he had drafted. It was held that he should not hear the case because of the risk of bias. There were concerns that he may subconsciously try to give a result which would not undermine the assurances he had given when promoting the legislation. The court made it clear that this cast no aspersions on Lord Hardie’s judicial integrity. In our scenario the judge should not hear the case.
  • c. The facts are based on similar facts in Lawal v Northern Spirit [2003] UKHL 35, whereby an advocate who had returned to his own practice having been chair of an EAT found himself appearing as an advocate before lay members of an EAT, with whom he had worked previously as chair of an EAT. An objection was made. The matter was considered by the House of Lords. They held that lay members would look to the chair for guidance on the law and could be expected to develop a close relationship of trust and confidence with the chair. There was no finding of the rule against bias. In our scenario it is unlikely there would be a finding of bias. You may be interested to know that in the case the House of Lords also ruled that having barristers and advocates sitting as part-time chairs of EAT (which meant they were, in effect, part-time judges) should be discontinued, to ensure that there was no possibility of unconscious bias on the part of lay members in such situations and to ensure that public confidence was not undermined. The practice has now been discontinued.


  • Subject guides
  • Legal problem solving
  • Application

Legal problem solving: Application

  • Example 1 (Contract)
  • Example 2 (Negligence)
  • Find out more
  • Back to Law research and writing guide

Apply the rules to the problem

Application, or analysis or argument, is the most important, and the longest, part of your answer. It involves applying the rules to the facts of the problem or question. 

This is where you state your evidence and explain how you will arrive at your conclusion.  Use relevant precedent cases, legislation, or statements of legal principles to support your answer.

Apply or distinguish the relevant case authority, with consideration of how the facts are similar or different to those in the cases.

You should consider both sides of the dispute and address counter-arguments where appropriate. If applicable, include discussion of cases that are contrary to your conclusion. Focus on any contentious issues. Give an indication of the weight of the arguments when setting out counter arguments (e.g. strong, good, poor, weak). 

Order the issues in a sensible and effective way to lead the reader to your conclusion.

The example below establishes one element of our argument.

The company requires Matthew to attend meetings and training, which shows they have a high level of control over him ( Stevens v Brodribb and ACE Insurance v Trifunovski ). These factors indicate that he is an employee ( Hollis v Vabu ).

  • Reading the reasoning of judges in cases can help you understand how legal problems are analysed and applied to the specific facts of a case.
  • Use legal principles and precedents in each analysis.
  • << Previous: Rule
  • Next: Conclusion >>

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  • The VLS Course
  • The Process
  • The Resources
  • The Podcast

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Legal Problem Solving acts on this recommendation. Starting from a historical context for the current state of legal services delivery, this course introduces human-centered design thinking and other proven creative problem-solving constructs to provide a client-centered focus for creating innovative and effective methods of delivering legal services to a wide range of consumers in the 21st century.

To borrow from Professor JB Ruhl's syllabus for Law 2050 , this is an unusual law school course — by design. The forces shaping legal services delivery — the very forces that will shape professional opportunities for today's law students — are not adequately addressed by the traditional law school curriculum. This course seeks to fill in the gaps, to give soon-to-be lawyers the tools, methods, and processes required to meet client needs while designing sustainable, healthy ways of practicing law.

Human-Centered Design

The primary lens for work in this course is Human-Centered Design ("HCD"), a fluid framework for discovering problems, ideating solutions, and iterating to continuously improve solutions. HCD provides a methodology for considering both legal service delivery challenges, as well as clients' legal problems. The HCD method also serves as a tool individual law students can use to craft a rewarding, successful legal career.

Ultimately, this course is about doing, creating, and making — from the client's perspective. The reading is front-end loaded, as the required texts help explain tools, methods, and concepts we will use to "do" collaborative legal problem solving as the semester progresses.

In addition to the course texts (see LPS : : THE RESOURCES for a reading list), course content includes class-wide and small group discussions, guest speakers, presentations, creative problem-solving exercises, and a capstone design challenge. The collaborative capstone design challenge requires students to use HCD and other methods to create relevant solutions to real challenges faced across the legal services spectrum.

The course uses technologies leveraged by creative teams across disciplines, including Slack for all class communication, Trello to manage collaborative projects, and Google Drive (Docs and Sheets) for all written assignments.

This course also has this website/blog, where we will share student blog posts and other writing projects over the course of the semester. We also will introduce additional technology tools relevant to work in this course AND the practice of law, including mind-mapping apps, presentation apps, and workflow management tools.

Learning Outcomes

Students learn to creatively solve legal problems as well as complex legal services delivery problems . They develop and exercise their empathy and curiosity muscles — critical skills for a successful career in the 21st century. They learn and hone collaboration and communication skills , including the skills of delivering and receiving feedback . Students become comfortable in experimenting with and using a wide range of technology serving the 21st-century law practice.

Ultimately, students will understand and be able to apply human-centered design (mindsets and processes) and related tools to THINK LIKE A CLIENT and BE CURIOUS , and to creatively solve clients' legal and service delivery challenges while simultaneously crafting a personally rewarding and sustainable legal career.

LPS :: The Process

Design doing..

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the tools and methods of human-centered design and other creative problem-solving constructs

For context, we do a deep dive into the current state of the legal profession, to understand the range and scope of service delivery challenges faced across the spectrum, from access to justice challenges to BigLaw struggles, and everything in between.

From there, we engage in a series of readings and conversations that introduce the tools of human-centered design thinking and systems thinking, providing case studies and concrete examples of how these tools can serve to solve a myriad of legal services delivery challenges.

We also hear from experts in the fields of legal design, agile project management, and legal tech, as well as design doers from other disciplines.

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A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking / Stanford's d.school

Bootleg Bootcamp / Stanford's d.school

Collective Action Toolkit / Frog

Design Sprint Kit / Google

Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit / IDEO

Human Centered Design Field Guide / IDEO

Teachers Design for Education / The Business Innovation Factory

This Is Service Design Doing: Methods Library


Open Law Lab / Stanford

Legal Design Lab / Stanford Law School + d.school

Law by Design, The Book / Margaret Hagan (Stanford Open Law Lab)

Listen > Learn > Lead: A Guide to Improving Court Services Through User-Centered Design / published by IAALS

MAP x GAP Strategies for User-Informed Legal Design / Michigan Advocacy Program

The state of the legal profession.

A primary point of this course? To design solutions to some of the most wicked challenges facing the legal profession today. Want a taste of what those challenges might be? Dig into this list of curated readings.

The state of the legal profession/market (reports):

Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States (2016) / American Bar Association

Profile of the Legal Profession (2020) / American Bar Association

Profile of the Legal Profession (2021) / American Bar Association

2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer: Moving Beyond the Pandemic / Wolters Kluwer

Law Department Benchmarking Report (2021) (Executive Summary) / Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)

Law Firms in Transition (2020) / Altman Weil

Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey (2020) / Aderant

Report on the State of the Legal Market (2021) / Georgetown Law's Center for the Study of the Legal Profession

Report on the State of the Legal Market (2022) / Georgetown Law's Center for the Study of the Legal Profession

State of Corporate Law Departments (2021) / ACC

State of the Industry Report (2021) / Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC)

EY Law Survey (2021) / EY

2021 Legal Department Operations (LDO) Index / Thompson Reuters

Amplifying the Voice of the Client in Law FIrms (2017) / Lexis Nexis

The state of access to justice and the law (reports and journals): Justice Needs and Satisfaction in the US 2021 / IAALS & HiiL

Daedalus: Access to Justice (2019) / American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Prognostications on what the future holds (or should hold) for lawyers and the legal profession (articles and videos):

Robot doctors and lawyers? It’s a change we should embrace. (2015) / Daniel Susskind

Upgrading Justice (video) (2016) / Richard Susskind at Harvard Law School

Legal Demand 3.0 (2017) / Jordan Furlong

The Future of the Practice of Law: Can Alternative Business Structures for the Legal Profession Improve Access to L egal Services? (2016) / James M. McCauley

The Future Is Now: Legal Services 2017 (videos of conference talks) (2017) / IL Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism - 2Civility

Should Tech Training For Lawyers Be Mandatory? (2017) / Bob Ambrogi

Are Lawyers Really Luddites? (2017) / John Alber

Well-being of law students and lawyers (research):

Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns (2016) / Organ, Jaffe, Bender

The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys (2016) / Krill, Johnson, Albert

The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change (2017) / National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being

The Lawyer Personality: Why Lawyers Are Skeptical (2013) / Dr. Larry Richard

And some more food for thought on innovation in the legal profession:

Innovation in Organizations, Part I (015) (2017) / Bill Henderson

Innovation in Organizations, Part II (016) (2017) / Bill Henderson

Innovation in Organizations, Part III (017) (2017) / Bill Henderson

Design Thinking: User-Driven Legal Process Design Could Radically Change Delivery of Services (2016) / 3 Geeks and a Law Blog

A Successful Legal Change Management Story (027) (2017) / Bill Henderson

And more general food for thought:

In the AI Age, "Being Smart" Will Mean Something Completely Different (2017) / Harvard Business Review

LPS Course Tools

Embedded in LPS is a requirement that students experiment with technology as part of the problem-solving and collaboration process. To this end, we'll be using the following tech tools in our course workflow:

Slack - for all course communication

T rello - for all team projects

Google Drive (Docs / Sheets) - for all assigned writings and team projects

Coggle.It - for mindmapping exercises

Students also will be introduced to numerous other technologies that support collaborative and creative work, including video, presentation, and workflow applications.

Design Tools

Online platforms to create custom design tools, including journey maps, personas, service blueprints, practice model canvases, and more:

Canvanizer - create specific types of canvases / blueprints (e.g. service design, project management), or start tabula rasa

Smaply - create personas, journey maps, stakeholder maps

Practice Model Canvas - create a new legal service (or improve upon an existing one) with this canvas

LPS :: The Blog

Thoughts, musings, and ruminations from #legaldesign students and a #legaldesign prof., the podcast: a curious lawyer, join us for conversations with and about curious lawyers..

Director of Innovation Design

Director, PoLI Institute

Lecturer in Law

Vanderbilt Law School

[email protected]


Legal Problem Solving © Caitlin "Cat" Moon

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5. Problem-solution approach

5. problem-solution approach .

In order to assess inventive step in an objective and predictable manner, the so-called " problem-solution approach " is applied.

In the problem-solution approach, there are three main stages:

(i) determining the "closest prior art", 

(ii) establishing the "objective technical problem" to be solved, and 

(iii) considering whether or not the claimed invention, starting from the closest prior art and the objective technical problem, would have been obvious to the skilled person. 

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Legal Problem Solving - A Guide for Law Students

This book describes methods of legal problem solving and then demonstrates how the method can be applied in the solution of an examination question.

legal requirements for problem solving

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Featured authors, patrick keyzer.

Patrick Keyzer is a Professor of Law, Chair of Law and Public Policy and Head of the La Trobe University Law School. Patrick co-wrote and continues to update the Halsburys Laws of Australia title on Constitutional Law. Patrick also co-wrote the 7th and 8th editions of Hanks Constitutional Law: Commentary and Materials. Patrick was Executive Associate to Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE, the Chief Justice of Australia, from November 1996 to May 1998. He holds a PhD in constitutional law from the University of Sydney and is also a practising barrister who has appeared in a number of significant constitutional cases including North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service v Bradley, Fardon v Attorney-General (Queensland) and Queanbeyan City Council v Australian Capital Territory. Patrick has taught constitutional law for over 20 years and has won five teaching awards.

Table of contents

  • Why Problem-based Assessment is used in Law Teaching
  • Identifying the Issues
  • Stating the Relevant Legal Authority
  • Developing an Argument
  • Reaching a Conclusion
  • Sample Questions and Answers - Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, Real Property, Equity, Succession, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Evidence, Law of Associations, Family Law
  • Study Methods and Examination Technique

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