How to Effectively Answer Law Essay Questions

I remember my first semester 100 level exams. I was just fresh from secondary school/JAMBITE, but I thought law exams were the same with secondary school exams. Heck, I didn’t even know that law exams were only theory questions. I was expecting to meet some objective questions, until I saw my exam questions.

Well, during the exams, I wrote what I could, and was confident my results would be awesome. After all, I had read for the exams well enough, and I used to think I was kind of intelligent.

I was in for a rude shock.

While I was in 100 level at the University of Ilorin, they still pasted everyone’s results on the notice board. So, when I heard the first result was out, I and a lot of my “fresher” colleagues went to check our results. I was expecting an A, or worse, a B.

I located my matric number on the pasted list and checked my first result. I had a C.

I was surprised, but I felt it was my first result, the others would be better.

The other results started trickling in. With each result pasted on the notice board, I realised I wasn’t so special after all. I had a series of C’s. For my 100 level first  semester results, out a total of 10 courses, I had just one A, two B’s and the rest were C’s.

I was dejected, along with most other “freshers” that received this glorious welcome to Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin.

Instead of blaming the poor results on the indiscretions of my lecturers, I knew something had to be wrong with what I wrote. So, I asked for help. I asked a scholar(the best student in a level) in 400 level at the time, Adekunle Charles, to show me how to answer law questions. He showed me the way, and I can tell you that my results improved dramatically.

So, I am going to teach you exactly what he taught me, how to answer law exam questions. I will be focusing on law essay questions in this post.

What are Law Essay Questions?

There are two major types of law questions, essay questions and problem questions. Law essay questions require you to write an essay. Unlike problem questions that require you to advise parties in a scenario.

We have all been answering a level of essay questions right from secondary school, so it shouldn’t be new to you.

The following is an example of a law essay question:

There have been a lot of arguments for and against the principle established in the popular case of Adams vs Lindsell.

Expatiate, through the cases.

To answer law essay questions properly, it must follow four rules. It must have The Introduction, The definitions, the body, and the conclusion.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 1: The Introduction

The introduction to your law essay question is the part where you let the lecturer know what the answer is all about.

In this part of the question, you shouldn’t directly go into answering the question. Instead, you are allowed to beat about the bush a little bit. Start with a general statement and then become more specific. At the end of the introduction, you should talk about the law essay question you intend to answer.

As an illustration, this is how the introduction to the sample law essay question above should look like:

The importance of feedback in the formation of a contract cannot be over-emphasized. It is trite that every contract needs to have an offer and acceptance, and there is the need to communicate the offer and acceptance between the parties. In a lot of instances, this isn’t really a problem since the offer and acceptance is done in real-time (face to face).

However, there are instances where it isn’t in real time, like when the communication is done by post. In this type of situation, due to the process of posting a letter or parcel, the communication between the parties can experience some delays. This has posed some problems, like “when is an acceptance valid?” Upon posting, or upon reception? One principle that has been developed by the courts to solve this problem is the rule in Adams vs Lindsell.

This work is going to analyse this rule and talk about the criticisms levelled against it, with special attention being paid to case law.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 2: The Definition

This is the part of the question where you give a definition to the major terms/keywords in the question. It is not necessary that it has to be a “term” per se. For instance, in the sample question I gave above, the major term is Adams vs Lindsell.

So, what you should do at this stage is to define the rule in Adams vs Lindsell. Since this is a case, you should talk about the facts of the case.

Your answer can go something like this:

The rule in Adams vs Lindsell is generally referred to as acceptance by post. The rule in  this case was propounded by Lord Ellensborough in 1818. In this case, the defendant offered to sell some wool to the plaintiff. The defendant sent their offer by post.

Due to an error in the posting, the letter got to the plaintiff on the evening of September 5. The plaintiff posted an acceptance the next day. If the letter was posted correctly, the defendant ought to have gotten the reply by September 7. So, when the defendant didn’t get a reply on September 7, he sold the wool to a third party on September 8. The plaintiff’s acceptance finally got to the defendant on September 9.

Since the defendant had already sold the wool to a third party, the plaintiff sued for breach of contract. The major contention was when the acceptance would be valid. On the plaintiff posting it, or on the defendant receiving it.

The court held in favor of the plaintiff that when it comes to contracts conducted by post, acceptance comes to fruition at the time of posting, not at the time of receiving.

Answering Law Essay Questions Rule 3: The Body

This is the major part of the answer to the law essay question. It is in this part of the answer that you demonstrate  your understanding of the question and knowledge of the subject matter. In a lot of instances, what differentiates an A student from a C student is the fact that an A student cited more authorities in this section of the answer.

Using the sample question above, this part of the answer to the law essay question will look something like this:

Since the inception of this rule, there have been numerous arguments for and against it by jurists, scholars, and judges alike. In the case itself, the court, in justifying its decision stated that if acceptance wasn’t complete on posting, then there is the need for the offeree to require the offeror to inform him that he had received his acceptance, and so it  goes on ad infinitum.

Scholars like Professor Sagay have disputed this justification of the rule in Adams vs Lindsell. According to him, the process doesn’t have to go on ad infinitum. The offeree can assume that a contract has come into fruition when the offeror receives the letter, the same way the the offeror has to assume that there is a binding contract when, and if, the offeree posts a letter of acceptance.

In the subsequent case of Household Fire Insurance Co vs Grantthe court gave some other concrete reasons for the adoption of the rule in Adams vs LindsellThe facts of this case are as follows. The defendant applied for shares in the plaintiff company, and the plaintiff company assented by posting a letter.

However, the letter didn’t get to the defendant, and as such, he didn’t know that the company accepted his offer. When the company got into liquidation, he was called upon to pay up his share. He resisted this, and thus the case was brought before the court.

The court, in applying the rule in Adams vs Lindsellheld  that he was liable to pay up his own shares, since a binding contract came into existence the moment the company posted its acceptance, regardless of the whether or not he received the letter.

In justifying the acceptance by post rule, the court gave the following reasons:

  1. The post office is an agent of both parties. So, technically, a letter given to the post office is deemed communicated to  the offeror.
  2. By posting the letter of acceptance, there is already a valid and binding contract. There is no need for any other act to bring the contract to fruition. The offeree has merely assented to the offeror’s proposals.
  3. The offeror is free to make it a term of the contract that there  is no valid acceptance until he receives it.
  4. Any alternative rule would lead to fraud and delay in commercial transactions because the offeree would have to wait for confirmation from the offeror that he has received his acceptance.
  5. The rule is the most convenient compared to all other alternatives.

However, the court’s decision was not unanimous. There was a dissenting judgement by Bramwell, L.J. He contended that if the basis of the rule was that it would cause hardship on the offeror, who might have already made arrangements based on the acceptance of  the contract, there is also hardship on the part of the offeror who might act on the belief that his offer was not accepted. This is even more relevant where the offeror didn’t receive the acceptance like in the present case.

All this goes to show that the rule in Adams vs Lindsell isn’t one that enjoys unanimous consensus in the legal community. Recent decisions by courts in the United States suggest a shift away from this rule of acceptance by post.

In the case of Rhode Island Tool Co vs US F. Supp. 417 (1955), the plaintiff’s made an offer to sell some bolts to the defendant. The defendant accepted by post, but the plaintiff discovered that they had quoted a very low price. To remedy this, they sent a telegram to the defendant revoking the offer. The telegram got to the defendant before the posted acceptance got to the plaintiff.

The court held that the offer was validly revoked since the telegram got to the offeree before the plaintiff received the letter of acceptance.

A similar thing happened in the case of Dick vs US F. Supp 326 (1949). The facts of this case are quite similar to the facts in the above case. In this case, the offeree was the plaintiff and after accepting the offer by post, sent a telegram withdrawing it. The telegram got to the defendant before the letter of acceptance, and the court held that it was a valid revocation.

Answer Law Essay Questions Rule 4: The Conclusion

The conclusion to the law essay question is the final part of essay (just like the name suggests). There are two major ways you can conclude the essay: either by summarizing what you have written, or by giving a recommendation/comment.

To be on the safe side, you should just conclude by summarizing what  you have written. You should also make it clear that  you are concluding by including the phrase “In conclusion” at the beginning of the conclusion.

So, this is how the conclusion to the sample question would look like:

In conclusion, this work has highlighted the evolution of the rule in Adam vs Lindsell with special attention given to case law. This work highlighted the establishment of the rule, the justifications given by the court for this rule, and the criticisms against this rule. It finally showed a departure from this rule in other jurisdictions like the USA, due to the impact of new technology on commercial transactions.

Here’s the full answer to the essay question

So, this is how you should answer a law essay question. If you want to get a full picture of what the answer to the essay question looks like, here you go:

The importance of feedback in the formation of a contract cannot be over-emphasized. It is trite that every contract needs to have an offer and acceptance, and there is the need to communicate the offer and acceptance between the parties. In a lot of instances, this isn’t really a problem since the offer and acceptance is done in real-time (face to face).

However, there are instances where it isn’t in real time, like when the communication is done by post. In this type of situation, due to the process of posting a letter or parcel, the communication between the parties can experience some delays. This has posed some problems, like “when is an acceptance valid?” Upon posting, or upon reception? One principle that has been developed by the courts to solve this problem is the rule in Adams vs Lindsell.

This work is going to analyse this rule and talk about the criticisms levelled against it, with special attention being paid to case law.

The rule in Adams vs Lindsell is generally referred to as acceptance by post. The rule in  this case was propounded by Lord Ellensborough in 1818. In this case, the defendant offered to sell some wool to the plaintiff. The defendant sent their offer by post.

Due to an error in the posting, the letter got to the plaintiff on the evening of September 5. The plaintiff posted an acceptance the next day. If the letter was posted correctly, the defendant ought to have gotten the reply by September 7. So, when the defendant didn’t get a reply on September 7, he sold the wool to a third party on September 8. The plaintiff’s acceptance finally got to the defendant on September 9.

Since the defendant had already sold the wool to a third party, the plaintiff sued for breach of contract. The major contention was when the acceptance would be valid. On the plaintiff posting it, or on the defendant receiving it.

The court held in favor of the plaintiff that when it comes to contracts conducted by post, acceptance comes to fruition at the time of posting, not at  the time of receiving.

Since the inception of this rule, there have been numerous arguments for and against it by jurists, scholars, and judges alike. In the case itself, the court, in justifying its decision stated that if acceptance wasn’t complete on posting, then there is the need for the offeree to require the offeror to inform him that he had received his acceptance, and so it  goes on ad infinitum.

Scholars like Professor Sagay have disputed this justification of the rule in Adams vs Lindsell. According to him, the process doesn’t have to go on ad infinitum. The offeree can assume that a contract has come into fruition when the offeror receives the letter, the same way the the offeror has to assume that there is a binding contract when, and if, the offeree posts a letter of acceptance.

In the subsequent case of Household Fire Insurance Co vs Grant, the court gave some other concrete reasons for the adoption of the rule in Adams vs Lindsell. The facts of this case are as follows. The defendant applied for shares in the plaintiff company, and the plaintiff company assented by posting a letter.

However, the letter didn’t get to the defendant, and as such, he didn’t know that the company accepted his offer. When the company got into liquidation, he was called upon to pay up his share. He resisted this, and thus the case was brought before the court.

The court, in applying the rule in Adams vs Lindsell, held  that he was liable to pay up his own shares, since a binding contract came into existence the moment the company posted its acceptance, regardless of the whether or not he received the letter.

In justifying the acceptance by post rule, the court gave the following reasons:

  1. The post office is an agent of both parties. So, technically, a letter given to the post office is deemed communicated to  the offeror.
  2. By posting the letter of acceptance, there is already a valid and binding contract. There is no need for any other act to bring the contract to fruition. The offeree has merely assented to the offeror’s proposals.
  3. The offeror is free to make it a term of the contract that there  is no valid acceptance until he receives it.
  4. Any alternative rule would lead to fraud and delay in commercial transactions because the offeree would have to wait for confirmation from the offeror that he has received his acceptance.
  5. The rule is the most convenient compared to all other alternatives.

However, the court’s decision was not unanimous. There was a dissenting judgement by Bramwell, L.J. He contended that if the basis of the rule was that it would cause hardship on the offeror who might have already made arrangements based on the acceptance of  the contract, there is also hardship on the part of the offeror who might believe that his offer was not accepted. This is even more relevant where the offeror didn’t receive the acceptance like in the present case.

All this goes to show that the rule in Adams vs Lindsell isn’t one that enjoys unanimous consensus in the legal community. Recent decisions by courts in the United States suggest a shift away from this rule of acceptance by post.

In the case of Rhode Island Tool Co vs US F. Supp. 417 (1955), the plaintiff’s made an offer to sell some bolts to the defendant. The defendant accepted by post, but the plaintiff discovered that they had quoted a very low price. To remedy this, they sent a telegram to the defendant revoking the offer. The telegram got to the defendant before the posted acceptance got to the plaintiff.

A similar thing happened in the case of Dick vs US F. Supp 326 (1949). The facts of this case are quite similar to the facts in the above case. In this case, the offeree was the plaintiff and after accepting the offer by post, sent a telegram withdrawing it. The telegram got to the defendant before the letter of acceptance, and the court held that it was a valid revocation.

In conclusion, this work has highlighted the evolution of the rule in Adam vs Lindsell with special attention given to case law. This work highlighted the establishment of the rule, the justifications given by the court for this rule, and the criticisms against this rule. It finally showed a departure from this rule in other jurisdictions like the USA, due to the impact of new technology on commercial transactions.

So, here you have it, a guide to answering law essay questions. If you follow these guidelines, you should see an improvement in your grades. If you have any questions related to this, feel free to drop a comment.

Author: Olanrewaju Olamide

Olamide is an avid reader who believes that no knowledge is wasted. If he is not surfing the internet, he would be doing something else to get more information, whatever that is.

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25 thoughts on “How to Effectively Answer Law Essay Questions

  1. Nice one bro. But between cramming the materials given by lecturers or understanding the material which one might likely improved one’s chance of getting good grade in essay questions from your own experience.

  2. Thank you so much for taking out time to be a silver linen in the dark clouds of a law student who now, understands better how to answer law questions. The time you took to practically explain this using the Adam V Lindsell case is not a waste. I duff my hat sir.

  3. wow! this is wonderful and great. this sample has taught me a better way of answering law essay question seriously.
    bro you are good honestly.

  4. Thank you very much sir. I have understood the format now. But however, if a topic that doesn’t have cases. Is it wise or necessary to find cases to relate to such topics. For instance, Legal reasoning in judicial process.

  5. Thanks bro, my inquisitiveness to studying law brought me to your site. Pls how do I make my dream come true. This is my nineteen years of secondary education. I have NCE N B. ed in pols n edu. Mgmt.

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