Students pursuing law courses may have to submit assignments as part of their academic training. It is very important to understand what the purpose of writing a law assignment is and what the expectations of the lecturers are. This would help you give a better legal essay or assignment.
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The purpose of a law assignment is basically to test the concepts and knowledge of different laws you have acquired during the course of your lessons. There are different kinds of law assignments you may encounter during the course of your studies. These include the following: commercial law, contract law, business law, family and personal laws amongst other things. Each application of law needs thorough understanding of the law and its conditions and sub-conditions for use.
Contract law assignments, for instance, needs the students to be familiar with the contract law and its applications. Contracts take place between parties when one party asks the other to complete certain tasks- and thus imposes obligations and benefits on the other. Such assignments involve cases of possible contractual breaches. The student has to use her knowledge to identify the possible breaches and what portion of the law is breached. The student may also have to suggest possible methods of resolution.
Some points to remember when writing a law assignment. The use of English language and structure becomes important. You need to have very good control over English language- grammar, structure, spelling and punctuations. You have to be very clear in the structure and phrasing used. There should be no cause for ambiguity. Choose correct and appropriate words. Avoid verbosity. The structure of thoughts in your text should be orderly and methodical with each argument leading up to the next. The more structured your argument, the better would your advocacy be.
In addition, using legal language can be very tricky and confusing for the legal student at the beginning of his course. Legal assignments may involve the use of heavy legal language, vocabulary and complex sentences, which may intimidate a student. Students may feel spurred to use an overdose of “legal” language in their writing to create an effect; however, that is not necessarily wise. Using simple language to make your point with use of necessary and unavoidable legal terms can make your essay or assignment meaningful.
Another part of writing legal assignments is the format. You need to pay careful attention to the format used. The lecturer would usually provide you with instructions regarding the kind of format to be used, so please ensure that you stick to it. Try not to use interpretations of your own in this regard; standard formats are the norm. Even when you are a practising lawyer, you may have to follow a format requested by your superiors.
Central to all legal writing is the use of well-reasoned and structured arguments. So you must do a lot of preparation and in-depth reading and research work, before setting out on writing the essay. Determine the stand you are going to take and find out the evidence to support it. The evidence should be strong and reliable and as far as possible, beyond doubt. Any views or opinions presented should be backed up by support. Your argument should have the least possible number of holes, which can be attacked by a combative opposition. All points should be mentioned in a clear away, leaving no space for confusion or doubt.
Your argument should stand strong in all parts. The premises and the conclusion should match each other. The premises are the reasons which you give for supporting a particular conclusion. A wrong argument or invalid argument is one in which the wrong kind of premises are used to justify a particular conclusion. You cannot accept the premises without accepting the conclusions. A strong argument has strong premises which support a logical conclusion. Sometimes it may be difficult to really dissect an issue but even in that case, it is better to present what can be reasonably proved beyond doubt.
At the beginning of the essay or the assignment, it is good to introduce the key terms which may be used throughout the essay. This would help the reader understand the thread of discourse.
Re-read the essay/assignment to ensure that you are on track and that you have answered the right topic. Else, all the hard work would go waste if you end up writing about something, which was not related to the original question. And that can be pretty disappointing, isn’t it?
There are different standards used for the citation of papers and other resources used as sources of information in legal studies. OSCOLA (The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities) is the legal standard recommended to be followed for referencing in some of the law schools in Britain as well as outside UK.
There are two kinds of sources used for deriving information to support arguments in legal assignments- primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are the sources of direct information. These include statutes, reports, legal publications. Secondary sources are based on information obtained from primary sources. Law teachers encourage students to primarily use information from primary sources for their research as that information would be more detailed, elaborate and precise. Use secondary sources where primary sources of information are not available. Overuse of secondary sources may lead to the danger of quoting inaccurate statements, and insubstantial discussions. Hence, assessors prefer that students use primary sources as much as possible.
Referencing is required to be done when you use external sources of information such as authorities for the preparation of the essay and especially for making specific statements. The incorporation of a bibliography at the end of an essay fulfils the former purpose. The use of footnotes at the bottom of every page, fulfils the latter purpose.
Footnotes are a very important part of the OSCOLA system of reference as they provide linkage to the evidence which is used to support statements that you make as part of your arguments. Hence, they can be used as a reference by the reader as to the veracity/authority of the statement you are making. Footnotes refer to the inserted numbers, placed as superscripts, at the end of a sentence in the body of a text.
The number contains reference to a piece of text from which information in the sentence is quoted. The full reference is expanded at the bottom of the page in the notes section. Footnotes may also be used to present additional information, which are not directly required in the main text but provides support to the argument.
Use of valid footnotes would increase the reliability and quality of the essay. Footnotes need to be ended with a full stop. The OSCOLA system does not depend on the extensive use of punctuation. Footnotes can also be placed next to a term or phrase used in the text, if required.
References, when repeated, can be abbreviated. But it should be mentioned in the first use of the citation that it would be referred to in the particular shortened form later on.
Quotations from legal texts/statements when used in the text, need to be cited in full. In fact, even if there are errors in the original documents, those errors should be retained in the quoted text. The use of quotations come for special attention under the OSCOLA as legal arguments may involve the necessity of quoting extensively from previous judgements/statutes/laws/rulings. Hence, there are many rules in this direction.
There are some commonly used signals and pointers which are used at various points of the essay. Understanding their usage would help to better structure the essay and give it a professional legal appearance.
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