CRITICAL ANALYSIS IN LAW ESSAYS
By Lorna Baldry
Critical analysis is a skill that many learners tell us they find problematic. They can’t always grasp what it means, sometimes they think it means much more than it actually does and of course there is no substitute for knowing the law and the commentary on the law. That’s one of the things that will help all to become clear.
Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Chief Examiners identify in their reports that many candidates choose to stay away from essay questions which involve critical analysis. Instead preferring to respond to problem questions. For some learners this is because they have not had experience of further and higher education where they may have gained gradually increasing study skills, including analysis and critical interpretation. Graduate learners will have received guidance on writing legal essays, but practice is sometimes new and something they’re aspiring to be a part of or progress with.
Those without the background of formal study skills guidance tend to be drawn to problem questions where they can apply the law and advise fictional clients in a notional scenario. This is what they do in work, they feel really comfortable with it. Graduates on the other hand will often tend to stay away from and feel more unsure of advising clients. They prefer a more formal, academic style essay question. Sometimes this is one of the reasons that law graduates do not always pass their CILEx exams first time. It’s one of their moments of realisation that the CILEx exams are much more difficult and quite different to the ones they sat during their degree.
Guiding our learners in the skill
Our CILEx learners make a big jump from level 3 to level 6 and need to know the difference between short answer questions and essay questions and the difference between essay questions and problem essay questions.
We give everyone a 6 month access to a course full of tips, guidance and resources for revision and exam preparation. We run lots of workshops on study skills and transition between study levels as well as revision and exam preparation. Our tutors are always looking out for the individual needs of our learners to develop new and extended skills.
Learners making the transition between levels need to be mindful of the change in the marks available for their responses and what that means for how much they need to write and how sophisticated their writing needs to be. They need to become familiar with key words in a question and the responses those words are trying to elicit.
With learners who are new to level 6 or new to level 6 with Brightlink, who do not have a law degree, we need to start right from the beginning on style.
Critical analysis is subjective writing expressing opinion and evaluation. It includes breaking down and studying the parts of an assertion or situation.
Critical analysis should include the learners evidenced opinion, matters of law and the commentary of knowledgeable and recognised third parties. Depending on the question that could be judiciary through obiter and ratio or in some responses it may be academics.
We direct learners to the suggested answers for past papers, which is what they are trying to emulate. We have our own style guides and tips and techniques to support our learners with this and other study skills. From August 2020 all Brightlink learners can learn much more about critical analysis as part of their study throughout levels 3 and 6.
Get in touch to ask about help and support available for your legal studies and how you can add critical analysis to your skill set.