Law Term Papers & Help Writing Law Essays

(Updated on October 24, 2017 by Michelle Williams)


A law term paper is an intensive study of a certain aspect of the legal code or system.  The intent of a law term paper is to provide a thorough analysis of some component of the law and discuss either its historical importance or influence or how it applies to a particular issue or situation.  Law term papers may be assigned in pre-law classes or even in philosophy or ethics classes.

A law term paper isn't the same as a legal brief, which is a document that presents the facts of a legal case and argues for a certain decision on that case.  Briefs are completed by lawyers in preparation for legal proceedings, and are therefore also a common assignment in law school.  Law term papers are typically more theoretical in nature and don't focus on one single case but rather on a single issue or concept.

Law Term Papers & Help Writing Law EssaysLaw term papers must, as their name suggests, focus on the law.  It is likely that such an assignment will have a student explore a particular law or legal issue and its evolution over time or its application to a specific issue or scenario related to the class.  Either way, the report will be rooted in the presentation and analysis of applicable laws as set forth in the public record.  The primary reference source for all laws is case law—laws that have been determined through court cases.  In addition, students may need to reference the United States Code—a compendium of recorded federal laws—or the state law equivalents of the US Code.  These sources are public, and are usually available on the internet.  When citing the law in a law term paper, it's best to present the exact wording of the law as it appears on public record.  This is because the law is often interpreted differently, and those interpretations are often dependent upon the language of the law.  Each time a law is cited, the writer must reference from where that law comes.  The Harvard Law Review Association publishes a citation manual known as the "Blue Book," which outlines exactly how these citations should be formatted.

A law term paper, like all reports, is intended to be an advanced document that demonstrates the student's accomplished understanding of the course and the topic.  This means that the writer should discuss his/her chosen topic in a thorough and objective way and avoid the use of the first-person voice ("I" and "me") and the insertion of personal or anecdotal examples.

Law Essays

A law essay is a brief text assigned on a law exam.  Law essays typically require the student to read a brief set of facts from a legal case, determine the legal issues relevant to the case, and then assess how those legal issues may be interpreted.  Because law essays are almost always assigned as part of an exam, they must be completed expeditiously in order to meet the time requirements of the exam.  Therefore, a student must present a coherent and thorough report in the span of a relatively short time period.  In this way, law essays are different from other types of academic works a student may have to compose—particularly papers that are done outside of class—because they aren't expected to be completely polished, flawless texts.  The most important aspect of a law essay is content—not presentation.  Therefore, learners should spend the majority of their time and effort thinking about and planning such reports rather than writing them.

The time allotment a student has in which to complete a law essay will vary.  Regardless of this time allotment, however, a student can budget time for all aspects of the report by sticking to the following time rules: an eighth of the allotted time should be devoted to the careful reading and re-reading of the prompt and facts; another eighth of the allotted time should be devoted to brainstorming about the possible responses and constructing a rough outline; three eighths of the allotted time should be spent composing the report; and the final eighth of the allotted time should be spent proofreading.  Thus, if a student were allotted an hour to complete one report, he/she should spend approximately seven or eight minutes carefully reading the prompt, another seven or eight minutes brainstorming and constructing an outline, about 35 minutes to write the assignment, and seven or eight minutes to proofread the document.  Though students under time restraints are often eager to hastily begin, devoting time to the planning aspects of the report will result in a more accomplished text.

Due to time restrictions, law essays must get right to the point.  This means that the introduction should briefly assert the facts of the case and the legal issues the case elicits and then proceed directly to explaining those legal issues and their possible interpretations.  Every sentence should provide relevant information that contributes to the main point.  Furthermore, the student shouldn't get caught up on feeling that the paper isn't eloquently written.  There is little time for eloquence in timed writing; content and analysis are far more important.  If a student becomes stuck at any point, he/she should move on to his/her next item of discussion rather than spend time brooding on a single topic.  After he/she has completed the rest of the report, he/she can come back and fill in the missing portion.

The final proofreading of a law essay must be quick.  The goal of this proofreading is to make the report as readable and understandable as possible.  Therefore, the student should focus on fixing errors rather than refining elements that could be better written.

Legal Research Papers

Students in all grade levels may have to complete a legal research paper in order to provide information about a legal case or as part of a law class.  Many students take law classes in high school or undergraduate programs.  However, most legal research papers will be completed as part of a law school curriculum by students who are studying the law.

A legal research paper can come in many forms.  However, the key ingredient for every legal research paper is that the topic has to do with something about the legal system.  Some legal research papers may focus on one particular court case.  Other legal research papers may focus on specific Supreme Court Justices, events in history, or situations in which the legal system failed.  Therefore, when a student is assigned a legal subject, he/she may have to write about a wide variety of sub-topics.  

In some cases, a legal research paper will reflect on information that a student is studying in class.  For example, if an undergraduate communications student is studying about intellectual property rights, he/she may have to write his/her legal research paper in response to a particular intellectual property case.  The student may also have to write about the fact that technology is much faster than the legal system, making it necessary for the law to change on a regular basis in order to keep up with technology.

Students writing legal reports should always consult direct sources.  Some students may benefit by reading commentaries on legal decisions.  However, most students need to read the actual court case itself in order to ensure that the information they find is accurate.  In order to find accurate information about any legal case, students may refer to Lexus Nexus, which is a database that makes legal research possible.  The database is used by students and professional attorneys.  

Students should also keep detailed notes about the cases as they review each court case.  The detailed notes will make it easier for the student to create the actual legal research paper without missing any important fact or idea.  

Writing a legal research paper is very similar to writing any other type of reference project.  However, unlike many other topics, students writing legal research papers have one database where they can access their primary sources for any case that they need to research: Lexus Nexus.  Having this primary resource helps to ensure reliability and accuracy of the information that they find.  It also helps to ensure that students are able to gain access to information fast and efficiently, which isn't always possible with other topics.

Law Coursework Writing

Law coursework is the body of assignments assigned for a class in law.  The majority of law coursework is comprised of reading and analyzing case law.  Some law classes may also require a learner to compose a legal brief or a legal reference project.

The writing a student composes for law coursework will likely differ significantly from the writing assignments a student completes for other classes.  This is because legal writing is very straightforward, very analytic, uses its own citation system, and incorporates legal terminology that's typically unfamiliar to most individuals outside the study of law.  Students will therefore need to familiarize themselves with others' legal writing before embarking on their own assignments.

Most law courseworks will focus on preparing for class discussions.  Therefore, most law coursework entails the close examination and analysis of case law—written opinions determined by appellate courts.  To prepare for class, students are typically asked to brief the case.  Briefing a case requires the student to summarize the facts of the case, identify the central legal issue of the case, explain the legal reasoning behind the court's decision, and assess that reasoning.  When briefing a case in preparation for class, the student must adopt the legal writing style.  This means that the student should organize the document using a system of headings that clearly identify the various sections and subsections of the brief, and that the writing in each of those sections is straightforward, precise, and free of superfluity.  To be free of superfluity means to be free of excess language that doesn't contribute to the meaning of the document.  While in many academic texts, learners will embellish their writing with adjectives and long, eloquent sentences, it's best to avoid such excesses in legal work.  Good legal writing gets to the point and speaks plainly.

Sometimes, law coursework will demand a formal writing assignment such as a legal brief or a legal reference project.  These should be completed in the same fashion as class assignments, but will carry the extra responsibility of multiple citations.

Writing Law Assignments

Students who are taking a law course or that are enrolled in a law school program will have to perform many different law assignments.  A law assignment may encompass a wide variety of assignments.  For example, many learners may have to review a case and discuss the case as a law assignment.  Other students may have to answer specific legal questions by uncovering a broad amount of information about a topic.  Still, some law assignments might require learners to review particular laws and acts that pertain to a specific legal arm.

While there are many different types of law assignments that students may have to undertake, it's important that students take their time to do due diligence when it comes to addressing issues related to the law.  After all, when it comes to the law, there are many precedents, amendments, appeals, and more that can lead to different outcomes.  For this reason, even practiced attorneys have legal assistants that will help them to thoroughly research a legal case before the attorney presents a side to a judge.  

One of the best ways for students to research and complete their law assignments accurately is to use the right legal resources.  Lexus Nexus is an example of an industry standard when it comes to researching legal cases.  Students can use Lexus Nexus to complete a law assignment by inputting information about a case, keywords, topics, or otherwise in order to uncover a wealth of related cases.  However, learners will have to have a subscription to access Lexus Nexus, which they may be able to obtain for free from their school.  

Also, there are many different practice areas when it comes to the law.  For example, some attorneys specialize in international business law.  Other attorneys specialize in family law or intellectual property law.  Therefore, whenever a student works on a law assignment, he/she will most likely be working within a specific practice area.  In some cases, the student may have an easier time finding cases when he/she is familiar with the practice area.  However, the student may also have to pull in information from other practice areas to ensure that he/she has a complete perspective.  

A law assignment is very different from a law essay or research paper assignment.  After all, when a student researches for a report, he/she will have to consult a huge variety of resources in order to get a clear picture of a situation.  However, when it comes to the law, there are very specific resources that are reliable.  These resources include the cases themselves, which will be archived in databases, and Lexus Nexus, which contains information about cases.  Students should use these resources instead of third-party resources in order to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information that they receive.

Law School Essays

A law school essay is a brief text composed for a course or exam in law school.  Typically, law school essays appear on law exams.  Some law classes may also require an essay as an out-of-class assignment.  In either case, law school essays are strikingly different from ones that students composed in college.  Legal writing is very direct and specific, and frequently employs the use of legal jargon.  Therefore, the scholarly tone and elaborate sentence structure of many scholarly texts should be avoided in favor of straightforward and concise prose.

The way to approach a law school essay for an exam depends on whether the exam is a timed, proctored exam or a take-home exam.  If the exam is timed, the student must think and write quickly in order to complete the test.  In this and all timed writing assignments, learners will benefit from devoting more time to thinking and planning rather than to writing.  Most professors don't expect a technically flawless essay from an exam; the primary objective of essay exams is to determine if students can, in limited time, think critically and develop sound arguments.  Therefore, learners should spend the majority of their allotted time carefully considering the report question or prompt, developing ideas and possible responses, and writing an outline.  Once the thoughts have been developed, the writing of the paper should be fairly straightforward.  

If a law school essay is being composed for a take-home exam or another out-of-class assignment, the expectations will be different.  The professor will expect the report to be longer and more in-depth, and may also require it to include citations noting case law that's relevant to the topic.  Furthermore, the writing for a take-home exam or other out-of-class essay assignment should be polished.  This means the student should proof the document carefully for grammar, spelling, and style errors, and should attempt to make the report as readable and eloquent as possible.  

All law school reports should display an advanced critical and rhetorical acumen by making knowledgeable and creative arguments and casting them in direct and assertive language.  Developing this level of analysis and presentation will take time; it's therefore advisable for students to practice writing law school essays before composing them for a grade.

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