Crack Legal Reasoning with the story of John Doe and the three day challenge Featured


real contract law class nujs Legal reasoning is a unique feature of any law entrance exam. Maths, GK, logical reasoning, English - these are standard components of almost any entrance test or competitive exam. Entrance exams for law schools, like CLAT, tests you on legal reasoning - and it is definitely something that you need to learn well if you want to go to a good law school. As a part of an ongoing series on law entrance exam preparation, expert law coach, Ramanuj Mukherjee writes in detail about preparation for Legal reasoning, with the interesting story of John Doe.


Legal reasoning is very important for everyone involved with CLAT. Law schools use legal reasoning score as tie breaker. Some students figure out how to do well in legal reasoning and it makes a lot of difference to their overall performance. Some students struggle with it and spend a lot of time and resources to learn how to do it right. Legal reasoning is so addictive, most students just love it - try checking out the Facebook law interest groups - at any given moment there will be 10-15 people posting, answering and debating legal reasoning questions.

I say that legal reasoning is very important because one can easily score full marks in it, and it takes very less time to solve if you do it in the right way. That means one can score 50 out of 50 in CLAT in legal reasoning, spending no more than 25 to 30 minutes - and imagine what a boost that can give to your total score.

And the best part is that Legal reasoning takes very less time to learn, even for a beginner, if the right methods are followed. I have taken students from 30% to 100% strike rate in a matter of total 10 hours - spread over 3 days. That is how good legal reasoning is. I will tell you how to learn legal reasoning in just 3 days. But well, things are not always this good for everyone, let me first tell you the story of John Doe.

The Story of John Doe

John Doe was about to take the final exam for 11th standard when he decided to study law. He heard some awesome stories about the top law schools and he could not wait to join one. He looked around, and found the most reputed training institute for CLAT training. On joining, he was given brand new material - the contents looked very interesting. The legal reasoning material had torts, contract law, criminal law, and even some constitutional law. John was super excited.

It gets tough as the board exam draws near - John still tried his best to make time to study for his law entrance. He is a hard worker; he never missed the classes offered at the tutorial. He read the modules, solved the practice sheets he got. He wrote the mock tests. Results varied - sometimes he did well in the mocks, at other times the result was not so great. But legal reasoning turned out to be an enigma. It was like he does well in legal reasoning only when he is lucky!

Sometimes he got questions he studied in the modules given by the tutorial and the law that was taught in classes - those were not the problem. However, now and then, there will be questions from areas of law that he never read or heard of. How is he supposed to answer questions based on family law, property law or intellectual property rights? He does not have time to read up all sorts of law right now - why is he supposed to know these laws anyway? If he learns all the laws right now, what is he going to the law school for?

Also, questions came in confusing forms - multiple principles, options structured in different ways. Sometimes he will get to an answer based on his knowledge of law - but the correct answer will be different. And the study material he got for legal reasoning covered tort law and contract law really nicely, but didn't deal with the kind of problem he was facing.

John Doe now gets confused with legal reasoning questions - he chooses one answer, then changes it after some thinking, and the whole thing takes more time than he can afford. To top all these, later on it turns out the first question he chose was right.

What do you think will happen to John Doe?

Who is John Doe?

In law, John Doe is a concept. When a person's name is unknown, he is referred to as John Doe. For the purpose of this article, John Doe is almost any other law aspirant who has tried to get his head around legal reasoning, put his best foot forward, and in the end just got confused. It is a very common story. Those of you who have been practicing legal reasoning for a while now know it, and those who have just started out can also sense it. For most people, legal reasoning turns out to be a mystery, a trial and error exercise - you just mark an answer and pray - and certainly don't count on getting full marks in it.

One chance for John Doe to turn around and get it right

I can't teach you the best method of solving legal reasoning in this article - not that I do not want to - it is just not possible. If I told you how to do it, you simply would not believe me. I would have to demonstrate it before your eyes a few times before you believe me. Then you need to try it out a few times yourself before you start getting confidence in the method.

But I can tell you only one thing you need to know. You are not supposed to prepare for legal reasoning.

Yes, that's right, you are not expected to prepare for legal reasoning - not as far as the CLAT paper setters are concerned. They don't want you to read the law and come to solve the paper. But they know people do that, they know that students are being taught law of torts and contracts by tutorials - so they try to prevent that kind of people from doing well in the paper. It's a simple job for them - just ask questions from areas law tutorials do not teach you. Like intellectual property law, or space law, or just some imaginary rules like "No one is allowed to take a vehicle inside the park."

What should you do then? First, throw away your tutorial modules for legal reasoning if you have any - they are utterly useless. You don't have the time to waste learning contract law - you'll do that in a good law school. If you have read any of those modules on tort law and contract law etc., take a deep breath and forget whatever you have read there. Trust me, that will be very helpful. Now learn how to solve legal reasoning questions, without reading or knowing any law at all. I'll tell you how to learn legal reasoning in 3 days flat.

What is legal reasoning?

Legal reasoning, as the name itself should tell you, is not about knowledge, its about reasoning. Your knowledge of law is not tested at all, and if you apply your knowledge of law unwarrantedly, you'll always end up choosing some intentionally misleading and wrong options.

When I was preparing for legal reasoning first, back in 2005 - I thought legal reasoning is about being able to understand what will happen in a real life problem. My god, how wrong was I. When you are solving a legal reasoning problem, you are not a judge who considers what is good, what is bad, or what ought to be the right, fair or acceptable decision. You are not a lawyer arguing for a poor victim you are sympathize with. If you feel like any of those people while you are solving legal reasoning problems, take a deep breath - and say "I am a machine, I will apply only the principle given to reach the right option, all the other things I know about law and the world must not be used to solve this question." That's it - all they want you to do is apply the principle to a fact situation. That is the skill being tested - and if you let your prejudice about things, your knowledge of law, or anything at all come into play - you'd miss the right answer. Just apply the principle.

Understand the principle:

To apply a principle you need to understand it when you read it. You need to have reasonably good comprehension skills. This is where having read some law can help - if you already know the principle you wouldn't waste time trying to understand it during the exam. It really helps if you are familiar with the principles. Now hold on, don't run back to see where you have thrown away your modules. There's a better way to fix this as opposed to studying law.

I hope you have already acquired all the past years papers? At least 30 of them? If not, god save you. The most important part of CLAT preparation is analyzing at least 30 past years papers to understand what kind of questions come. Plus in most of the exams they blatantly repeat some questions just to weed out the students who are dumb enough to not read past years papers. I may have got the reason wrong, but they surely repeat a lot of questions, so please don't miss solving past years papers.

Coming back to the point, look at old CLAT, NLUD, NLUO, National Law School and NALSAR papers. Read legal reasoning questions. Cull out principles from there and make a huge list. Read this list - see which principles have been repeated many times. Read all of them anyway - make sure you understand all the elements and conditions in them. This will ensure familiarity with the most common and important legal principles that repeatedly appears in papers.

Be ready to face a few completely new principles too - everyone will. The point of the above exercise is to be familiar with the ones that you can be familiar with without going out of the way, using optimum effort. If you are not happy with this, you must be ready to study all the branches of law - to do which my 5 years in law school has proven to be insufficient.

Applying the principle and choosing the option:

What really matters in legal reasoning is correctly applying a principle. The option you would select, therefore, must have an application of the principle. Any option that can not be reached by application of the logic provided in the principle, can not be the correct answer. The best thing therefore, is to read the options first, and then the principle, and weed out the options that do not clearly have any application of the principle straight away. Only to choose between the remaining options, you need to read the facts. Very often, there will be only one option that applies the principle - then you do not even have to read the facts - you can choose this option right away. If you want to learn this technique, pick up some past years questions and try doing this right now. This is a great way to short circuit the entire process, eliminate chances of getting misled by facts or options and save a lot of time.

Of course, only the smart and the brave can learn to do this by themselves without help of a teacher.

The Last Mile:

Remember there are two aspects to doing well in legal reasoning - one is to get the correct answer, and the second is to do that in very less time. In the current format of CLAT, you are unlikely to be able to devote more than 45 seconds for a legal reasoning question. Prepare to solve these questions at a lightning speed - that will be necessary to do well.

Just a few more pointers to round up the whole discussion:

1. Familiarity with types of questions: non-familiarity is a killer of speed. Try to familiarize yourself with all sorts of legal reasoning question patterns that have appeared in any paper so far.

2. Multiple principle handling: Multiple principles cause much confusion for a lot of people. You need to learn how to quickly decipher the combined effect of multiple principles

3. Reading facts quickly: lengthy fact situations waste your time. You need to know that all fact situations have necessary and unnecessary facts. It is important to separate the grain from the chaff quickly so that you can focus on the facts necessary to answer the question asked quickly.

4. Misleading options: There will always be misleading options. Sometimes there will be more than one correct option, at other times there will be no correct option. It is important to learn how to choose your course of action in all of these cases. You must not waste time on these questions.

5. Selective prior legal knowledge: Having selective prior legal knowledge will make you lightning fast.

6. Be prepared to handle the unknown and the unexpected: Many people fail to perform well on the d-day of the entrance test just because they face situations that they have not handled before. It is important to be prepared for surprises and have the flexibility to deal with types of questions that you did not prepare for (like the legal aptitude questions in CLAT 2008), or more questions than you thought could come (CLAT 2011). Expect the unknown. Unknown can vary from bad lighting conditions in the exam hall (my students complained of this during 2009 NLUD exam in Kolkata), to questions being lifted from a particular book (CLAT 2009), wrongly arranged question booklets (happened when I wrote my NLS entrance!) or bad invigilators. Be mentally prepared to handle the unknown, and to do well against all odds.

7. Time management: This is a very important aspect of succeeding in law entrance. It is very important to have a good time management strategy for the exam. Merely knowing how to solve questions is not sufficient if your time management skill is weak.

The 3 day challenge:

Day 1 - solve the legal reasoning sections of 12 NLSIU entrance papers and 3 CLAT papers - do it as fast as you can applying the methods described above (Estimated time needed to solve - 5 hours)

Day 2 - Solve the same papers again - yes you may remember the answers already, but still do it - try to do it in the most efficient way, matching principles with options first, and going to read facts only when absolutely necessary. Track the time, you have to do it in half the time as opposed to what you take on the first day. (Estimated time needed to solve - 3 hours)

Day 3 - Find a partner - ask him/her to choose 100 questions for you. You choose another 100 for her. Solve these in one hour each in each other's presence. Then exchange papers for evaluation of each other. Debate over answers you don't agree with. Whenever there is a stalemate, see which option is closer to the principle in terms of language, that is probably the right answer.

The author, Ramanuj is an alumni of National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. He currently works in Trilegal, a Mumbai law firm, in the private equity and M&A team. Apart from working as a corporate lawyer in one of the top law firms in India, Ramanuj has been involved in training and education for the last 5 years. Ramanuj has developed multiple law and reasoning courses from scratch, for For IMS Learning Resources Pvt. Ltd. and IDIA, and taught thousands of students in more than 5 different states. He is also the founder of one of the leading CLAT forums - CLAT Hacker and its active facebook community.


Image Courtesy: Ramanuj Mukherjee

This is the second article in series of CLAT and other law entrance exam preparatory series, Students can also read the expert article on preparation on current affairs for CLAT

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 June 2012 18:17

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