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  • Writer's pictureTommy Sangchompuphen

The Power of "Because" vs. the Pitfalls of "If"

I previously wrote about the importance of liberally using the word “because” throughout your analysis or application sections of your law school or bar exam essays.

 

Frequent and consistent use of the word “because” prevents examinees from being conclusory—i.e., stating a position without factual support—and it preempts the professor or bar examiner from asking “why.” Conclusory statements and responses will receive little to no credit. The word “because” wonderfully connects rules to specific facts and prevents you from being conclusory.

 

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum—the word that examinees should generally stay away from—is the word “if.”

 

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

 

When examinees use “if,” they’re introducing an element of uncertainty or doubt into their analysis. But in legal analysis, 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.

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