- When you learn a new legal concept, pay attention to the context in which it applies. What are the facts that trigger this rule of law? Stories are your friends when it comes to issue-spotting. What cases do you remember best? Probably, the ones with the most bizarre and memorable story lines. Make the stories vivid in your mind because images help your memory. I still remember the “hairy hand” case from the Contracts course.
- When you prepare your outline, include a case brief or a hypothetical to introduce the legal rule. See my previous post on mind-mapping for an example. Just knowing the law is not enough if you can’t recognize when to apply it.
- They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it. If you were a professor, what fact pattern or hypothetical would you use to illustrate the legal rule? Play with the facts, change them, see how it affects the legal outcome. This exercise helps to train your brain to look for the relevant information.
- Create a map of tags, or buzzwords, for a particular legal rule or an element. Let’s say, I know my five criteria to acquire title by adverse possession, but I want to know what facts would trigger the application of the “actual” element. Here is the sub-map I created for this specific element, click on it to enlarge. A word of caution: this sub-map shows which facts may trigger the application of the element “actual”, it does not tell us whether the presence of those circumstances will satisfy the test. They may or they may not. In fact, courts may reach different conclusions. What’s important for you is to spot the issue and analyze it even if you are unsure how the courts will come out on this.
- Practice, practice, practice! Flashcards are very useful for issue-spotting, and so are practice tests. You can even read a newspaper and spot issues if you want to.
- When you are taking the test, scrutinize the facts. Why is this seemingly trivial detail mentioned here? What is its legal significance? Ask: “So what?” However, don’t invent issues, it’s a waste of time.
As to the different types of testable issues, read Professor Vernellia Randall’s explanations and the Flowchart for Issue-spotting.