At the beginning of law school, every student learns “the method” used to help clients solve problems. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion.
- Issue: Issue spotting is a lawyer’s tool in trade. Never assume you know what the issues are without changing viewpoints or getting outside input. For example, HR executives not highly experienced in the law might assume the issue might relate to a Workers Comp return-to-work situation when in fact it’s also related to both the ADA and the FMLA. They might assume that the issue is getting rid of a poor performing employee when the real issue is what the manager did to create this poor performance. One reason that appellate tribunals consist of multiple judges is so that there can be a variety of viewpoints, especially when establishing the true issue. The ability to spot issues is one reason you should have a lawyer check your head when you have a serious problem.
- Rule: Rules come in many forms. There are hard and fast rules, such as those promulgated by legislatures and the court system. Then there are softer ones, such as those that relate to culture or values. In many cases, a whole host of rules can apply to a situation. You might have a contract, policy, procedure, habit, government requirement, vendor requirement, or some other rule that applies.
- Analysis: Now that you know the issues are, as well as the rules, it’s time to do your analysis. As lawyers know, tough facts make for tough cases. There are times when applying a rule is not in your best interest. For example, the normal rule of the road is that you walk facing traffic; however, there might be a situation in which it’s safer to walk with traffic. In this case, complying with the law would generate an unsafe outcome. Experts make their money by knowing how to judge a situation for what it is, and not for what you’d like it to be. Their detached analysis is your best friend.
- Conclusion: Last, but not least, you need to make a decision. Of course, doing nothing is a decision in itself (sometimes this is the best course of action). In other cases, you need to take swift and immediate action. One of the main questions in deciding what path to take is to ask “Is there a way to get to the outcome we’re seeking that benefits all parties?” When we come to a conclusion, we must consider all stakeholders to a situation.
After answering questions from professors and law school exams for three straight years, IRAC becomes part of who lawyers are. There are many ways to “frame” a situation; IRAC adds one more arrow in your problem-solving quiver. May you use it well!