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  • Writer's pictureTommy Sangchompuphen

Enjoy "IF" on the Big Screen, Not in Your Essays

It’s summertime—unofficially, at least. With it comes the peak season for movies.


With two children at home, my summer promises to be a delightful marathon of movie watching. As the warm weather ushers in the peak season for cinematic releases, we're particularly excited about the lineup of family-friendly films (as well as buttery popcorn eating) set for the next several months, like “The Garfield Movie" (May 24), "Robot Dreams" (May 31), “Inside Out 2” (June 14), and “Despicable Me 4” (July 3).


These movies offer a perfect opportunity for family outings and creating cherished memories around shared stories and characters. Whether it's animated adventures, superhero sagas, or whimsical fantasies, the summer's cinema schedule is sure to have something that will capture the imaginations of both young and old alike.


Last week, the newly released movie "IF," directed by John Krasinski and starring Ryan Reynolds, invited audiences into a world where the power of imagination reigns supreme. This film follows young girl and her unique ability to see "IFs"—imaginary friends of adults, tucked away in a special retirement home. As the young girl delves into this magical universe, the story illustrates how the unseen and the speculative enrich our lives, reconnecting adults with the joys and wonders of their youth.

Drawing a parallel to bar exam preparation (because that's what do), the central theme of "IF" offers a unique perspective on the use of "if" versus "because" in bar exam essay writing.

I’ve already discussed the importance of the word “because” in bar exam essays. Now, let’s contrast that with the word, “if.”

Examinees should minimize the use of the word 'if' in their essays. The reason for this is twofold: clarity and precision.


Bar exam questions demand precision and adherence to the facts presented. In this context, "because" is the superior choice for crafting responses. It explicitly connects legal principles to the facts at hand, demonstrating a clear and logical reasoning process essential for convincing arguments.

When examinees use “if,” they’re introducing an element of uncertainty or doubt into their analysis. But in essay writing, examinees want to convey confidence and authority in their arguments. Instead of saying “if,” they should state their conclusions based on the facts and legal principles presented in the test question. By doing so, they convey a more persuasive and assertive tone, which aligns with the way legal professionals communicate in practice.


Furthermore, when examinees use “if” excessively, they are discussing hypothetical scenarios that may or may not be relevant to the actual question at hand. It can lead to a lack of focus and distract from the core issues. Instead, examinees should ground their analysis in the given facts and confidently draw conclusions from those facts, rather than speculating with “if” statements. This approach not only enhances the clarity of their arguments but also showcases their ability to apply the law to the specific facts effectively.


But with most general rules in the law, there are exceptions. There are specific situations where the use of the word "if" is not just appropriate, but it can significantly enhance the quality of the response.


First, when an examinee is uncertain about the accuracy of their conclusion, using "if" can allow them to answer in the alternative. This approach demonstrates an understanding that legal issues can have more than one plausible interpretation.


Imagine a question where the legality of a contract is ambiguous. An examinee might conclude that the contract is valid but can use "if" to discuss the alternative: "If the court finds that the consent was not voluntary, then the contract may be considered voidable." This shows an appreciation for the complexity of legal issues and an ability to think critically about different outcomes.


Second, when an examinee has quickly resolved an issue in the essay question quickly, using “if” can help expand these responses by exploring additional legal implications or consequences.


For example, in a Constitutional Law essay, an examinee might quickly conclude that there is no government action involved. If there is no government issue, then there’s no reason to discuss any other potential constitutional violations contained in the fact pattern. To give themselves an opportunity to discuss the substance of those other issues, the examinee could use "if" to delve deeper: "If, however, the court interprets the involvement of the state actor as significant, the action could be deemed governmental." This not only lengthens the response by giving the examinee an opportunity to continue answering the question, but it also shows an ability to consider and articulate potential counterarguments or less obvious aspects of the case.


When it comes to law school and bar exam essays, the use of "because" is favored over "if." While "if" introduces uncertainty and hypotheticals, "because" demands explanation and grounds arguments in specific facts.


Therefore, embrace "because" for its clarity and directness, steering clear of the often-problematic us of "if."


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