How to Write a Law Essay or Dissertation

Features of a Law essay

The most common type of law essay is one which takes the form of a critique, or critical analysis of a particular area of law.  This may focus on a specific piece of law in the form of case law or legislation, or on a wider area of law.  This main features of this type of essay will be, firstly, that the essay will accurately describe and identify the law.  Secondly, the essay will critically assess the law, depending on the instructions and title, assessing how effective the law is, and how or why the law should be amended.


Features of a Law dissertation

A dissertation in law will share many of the features of an extended essay.  Depending on the title, the dissertation will usually require an examination of a particular area of law.  By contrast to a shorter law essay however, the dissertation will be able to investigate and analyse the law in an area in much greater depth.  The main features of such a dissertation may be said to be the dissertation’s enhanced analysis and critical focus as well as the enhanced analysis of both primary and secondary sources of law such as other author’s opinions as expressed in journal articles.


How Law Writing Differs from Other Subjects

The main difference between writing in law and writing in other subjects is that writing in law is carried out in the shadow of the law itself as expressed in primary sources.  In England and Wales this will be set out in the form of common-law, (often referred to as judge-made case law) as well as in Statute in the form of Acts of Parliament.   This is in contrast to writing in other academic areas such as history for example, where the examination of sources, whilst important, is not required to be carried out within a set framework of rules and regulations.  Law writing requires an ability to identify and demarcate differences in factual circumstances as well as acute critical analysis of primary and secondary sources in order to allow for a proper critique of the law and in order to apply it correctly. 


How to Reference: Most Common Referencing Systems for Law Papers

The most common referencing system for law papers in England and Wales is the Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (or OSCLOA) method.  OSCLOA utilises footnote referencing, with authorities referenced as footnotes.  For cases, OSCLOA requires the parties’ names to be typed in italics, with a footnote reference which links to the year of the report (in square brackets), followed by the location of the law report.  Neutral citations should be cited first.  In addition, some law essays are required to be referenced according to the Harvard method.  This method is much less common.  By contrast to OSCLOA, Harvard uses in text citations.


Things to Remember in Writing a Law Essay or Dissertation

When writing any law essay or dissertation there are several factors that should always be borne in mind.  Firstly, when writing an analytical piece, make sure you focus on analysis; it is very easy to lapse into merely describing the law, or even describing some other author’s criticisms without analysing them in turn.  The second major to remember is to focus your answer on the question asked.  Make sure the focus of the essay remains tightly bound to the title and check this remains true throughout when proofreading.  Finally, make sure the law is correct and up to date. Protection Status