If you were to write a book for youngsters about how to play baseball, or an adult-oriented romance novel, your “audience” would be easy to identify. In the first example, you’d be writing for an age group between 7 and 11; the readers would all be interested in baseball; and they’d be, let’s say, beginner-to-intermediate level of capability and sophistication in the sport. In the second example, you could Google the demographics for who buys romance novels, and get a pretty good idea of who might purchase your book. Audience identification is critical whenever you write-and that’s the case when you write answers to law school essay exam questions as well.
When you write the answer to a law school essay exam question, your audience is fictional. Think of your audience (reader) as an informed attorney or a colleague (law student) who is quite familiar with the nature and purpose of law in general; who has read the fact pattern; and who has a passing familiarity with the law of the subject (torts or contracts, for example), but needs to be reminded of the precise rules of law. Then proceed as if you are explaining the situation to that person.
For example, that person would not need to read that often hunting knives have sharp edges, that if a person is the manager of a grocery store, one can assume that she is the person who ought to be in charge of the store, or that there is a difference between tortuous battery and criminal battery in that the latter is punishable by imprisonment.
Also, because the fictional reader has read the fact pattern, there’s no need to repeat sections or sentences of the question. In other words, if the question includes, “When Mr. Slocum walked into the airport he noticed the aroma of something burning-and this immediately caused him concern”… then there is no need to include in your essay, “When Mr. Slocum walked into the airport he noticed the aroma of something burning-and this immediately caused him concern.” (Rather, you could refer to Slocum’s location, refer to the aroma, or refer to Slocum’s concern, if they are key facts in your argument-no need to repeat what the reader has just read in the question.)
Although each step of your legal analysis ought to be in the essay, it is important not to waste your limited time by explaining what your audience can be expected to know.
Now let’s look at the “real” audience: your professor. Always write with your professor in mind. In general, hallmarks of an “A” grade answer include: identification of all issues, significant attention to “grey areas,” incorporation of higher-level argument techniques (example: using the “slippery slope” argument), integration of the legal principles and facts of the hypothetical with common sense notions, and policy support for a position taken.
However, professors differ in what they consider “A” grade material. Therefore, it is very important to obtain not only the old exam questions your professor has filed, but also-if available-her examples of quality answers. You should study these answers carefully, for there you will find which qualities your professor rewards with high grades.
You ought to also discuss with your professors what they look for in exam answers during office visits. You will also get quite a bit of this information during class-be sure to put that in your notes! Do this with each of your professors to learn what he or she expects on a real exam. Whatever you discover, that’s what to practice! Then incorporate your professors’ suggestions into your practice exam answers.
Audience matters in everything you write… and the audience you write for when you compose answers to law school essay exam questions is likely to be a determinative factor in the grade you receive!