While writing a law essay means understanding many of the skills you need for writing other types of essay, law essays also have some unique features which you should master. This guide will help you understand how to write a law essay. For help on writing other types of essay and general essay-writing skills, see our other useful guides…
What Makes a Good Law Essay?
A good law essay should:
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- Attend closely to the question asked
- Show a good knowledge of the area addressed and also the wider context
- Be accurate, make few errors and omit little of importance
- Identify the most relevant points of law
- Have a clear structure, argument and style
- Use supporting information and ideas well
- Use more than one line of argument
- Understand the theoretical context
- Present critical analysis
The Structure of a Law Essay
Like other forms of essay, a law essay generally has an introduction, main body and conclusion. It also frequently has appendices, and always has a bibliography. As is standard for all essay types, the introduction will set out the main points of the essay, and explain its overall structure. The main body is subdivided into sections and paragraphs, and headings are usually used. The conclusion summarises the main points. The bibliography may have three sections, for books, articles and other. Statutes and legislations, and cases, both divided by jurisdiction, are listed.
Law essays are likely to have footnotes, numbered consecutively. Footnotes mean that superscripted numbers are inserted into the main text with full explanations given in notes at the foot of each page. Footnotes should be brief and to the point.
Citation for a law essay is markedly different from a standard essay. You need to know how to correctly cite cases, law reports, statues, statutory instruments, the constitution, EU legal sources as well as secondary material and electronic sources.
Legal sources are often divided into primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are original material (statutes, official publications, law reports for example). Secondary sources include books, articles and comments.
Your university is likely to specify the system of citation you should use, for example the Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA).
The CLEO method
The CLEO method is one approach you can use to write your law essay. It involves four steps and focuses on problem questions, but can also be used to tackle discussion and practice questions. The four steps are as follows:
C – identify the claim. This involves the ability to spot legal issues, construct arguments and respond to questions.
L – present the appropriate law. This involves an awareness of a range of legal issues, and reasoning skills
E – evaluate the facts in light of what is presented at step 2. This involves analysis and persuasion
O – identification of the outcome of the argument. This involves balancing the different themes which have been introduced and relating them to relevant theory.
- University of Stirling School of Law (2010) ‘Law Student Skills Handbook’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
- University of Leicester School of Law (2009) ‘‘Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay
- ’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
- Oxford University Press ‘A guide to writing law essays’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
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