ILAC 101

You’re attending the first seminar on contract law. In that 2 hour session, the lecturer went on and on. She finishes it with giving out questions before leaving the hall. How do you answer it?

Despite many undertakings, as far as my personal experience is concerned, many law students’ organisation or the Student Representative Council Secretariat fail to conduct study skills and exposures, especially for the freshman. I’m not bashing them, it’s just my finding. The scenario is so for UiTM Kedah and UiTM Malaysia. The only programme organised would be a motivational course for students who failed to obtain a CGPA of 2.50. I personally doubt that they cover study skills and techniques tailored especially for law students. Probably they don’t have the time or funding.

I hope that this entry would shed some light for freshmen and freshwomen – and their seniors who still search for the golden formula.

ILAC? What’s that?

Law school formulated a simple guide in tackling law papers and assignment. This method have been used over and over again by both students and practicing professionals. If you open up case law, even judges follow this guide. It’s called ILAC, or IPAC. ILAC stands for:

  • Issue;
  • Law/Principle;
  • Application or Arguments; and
  • Conclusion.

The rationale is so your essay or answer would be written in a logical manner. ILAC also helps you to make sure you’re using the right application and arguments.  Besides helping you, ILAC assists the examiner on how to award and distribute marks. This makes the manipulation of ILAC even more critical.

ILAC in Action

It’s one thing to just talk about the benefits and rationale of ILAC. It’s a whole new thing when it comes to application. Let’s see briefly how law students and practitioners apply this basic guideline.

A. Issue
Every question must have an issue. If not, there would not be a reason to write and answer, will there? In normal college writing, the issue is an equivalent to you thesis statement. It serves as an anchor and guide on tackling the problem. There is no point to discuss everything you learned in Contract Law just to answer a problem on validity of acceptance. You don’t have time, knowledge or even energy to do so. An issue usually is only one sentence. E.g. Whether the contract formed between A and B, who is a minor, valid.

While an issue usually one sentence, a question can have more than one. If it’s a contract law exam, besides the capability to enter into contract, the scenario could include terms and conditions, consideration etc. Be mindful of the fact that there can be “hidden” issues besides the obvious. The ability to identify these underlying issues distinguishes an average student and an A student – to quote my former Contracts Law I lecturer.

In terms of mark, Issue generally bears 1 mark. This varies according to institutions and type of question.

B. Law or Principles

The next thing you need to do is to identify the appropriate legislation or case law. Example in Land Law, we have the National Land Code to prescribe the alienation process, powers of the State Authority and rights of the proprietor. Where relevant, you’ll need to cite the related provisions. Even for a comprehensive Code (as opposed to “Act”, “Enactment” or “Ordinance”), there are situations where the National Land Code is silent. Example what constitutes fixtures and what are chattels? To determine this, we have incorporated common law to fill in the lacuna. Be warned, though: Many examiners would not award marks for “copy and paste” of statutory provisions. They expect you to paraphrase it without changing the gist and critical details.

A factor which distinguishes law students and laymen are cases. Anyone can buy a statute from the bookstores. You, me, the guy in the house next door, the lady walking past you. Anyone. Our knowledge and understanding of case law sets us apart. Case law, examples Holland v Hodgeson and Teh Bee v. K. Maruthamuthu, act as authorities to justify our claim and rebut our adversary’s where statutory provisions are ambiguous or silent. But this is not the means to an end. Rather, it serves as a foundation of the end.

More marks are allocated in this section compared to Issue and Conclusion. Be reasonable when your citing statutes and cases. Remember that you can list all the cases under the sun, but the examiner can only give so much marks.

C. Application and Arguements

What distinguishes an A student from a regular student is the way one argue in one’s answer script. This have been told to us by our lecturers over and over again. Even in real life, cases are won and lost because of arguments presented in court. For those of you who intend to depart from precedent, here’s your chance. Most examiners expect you to justify your stand and apply all the law/principles you cited earlier. For the purpose of academics, you are expected to follow the precedent. But you are also given room to criticize a judgment.

To apply, you really have to read the cases themselves. Not a summary you can get from the text book. Only by reading the judgment itself can you for yourself see why this judge adopted this decision and all other issues raised. Unfortunately for us, there is no shortcut.

Remember that your arguments should be in logical order. While it’s easier and more tempting to adopt whatever notes you read, it’s just good enough for you to pass. But memorizers isn’t what the legal profession needs. We need more law students, lawyers and judges who have substance as well. This is where, to quote my former Administrative Law lecturer, UiTM and MU law students are different: the later have more substance compared to the former. And I personally agree.

D. Conclusion

As with any novel and essays, you must end your answer with a conclusion. To do this, you simply take the all the issues you mentioned and reword it based on the direction you took. Example: The contract between A and B is void because… .

Your conclusion carries about one mark or so each.

Use ILAC Tailored to Your Needs

Remember that what I’ve shared with you is merely the tip of an iceberg. As you progress, you will be able to manipulate this formula to create that A essay. There are, however, many other issues which I have not raised here. Examples: how do you apply when there are multiple issues? What language should you use when writing the essay?

As time progress, I’ll shed some light here. I would like to recommend the book Exam Skills for Law Students 2nd Edition by Marry McVea & Peter Cumper. It’s printed by Oxford University Press. I got my copy from Kinokuniya KLCC for RM59.90. For UiTM Law Students, I saw a copy of the same book in PTAR2.

For now, happy writing and good luck.