This article will delve into the technical (read: problem-solving) aspects of Legal Reasoning. We strictly advice you to sit up straight and read this instruction manual with utmost concentration before boarding the flight to the Promised Land of correct answers. Swivel chairs are not advisable, lest you go off course.
Since we believe that we have sufficiently grabbed your attention and tested your focus that you need for this article, then we can perhaps drop the act now.
Assuming you guys had started solving practice questions, we realised midway through the Defences to Torts that we were amiss in not pointing out the most important part in all this – the reasoning, i.e., how do you pick out the most reasonable option? How do you reason?
Before we move further with the Legal Reasoning curriculum, we think that now is the best time to explore and explain a bit of how we went about LR ourselves while preparing for the exam.
Legal Reasoning presents application-based problems, where you have to apply your knowledge of the law to the specific area (facts) that the problems concern.
Not only is it important to know what to apply, but it is equally important to know what not to.
Our second article on Legal Reasoning (LEGAL REASONING FOR CLAT: RECAP, link: http://www.lawctopus.com/clatapult/legal-reasoning-for-clat-recap/) had five pointers or thumb rules to follow while applying a legal principle to a set of facts, in order to reach the most reasonable conclusion.
Obviously, those cannot be the only rules to follow, nor are they absolute in nature.
So, to go a bit further, let’s take the example of Tort of Defamation, which has the truth as one of its defences. Usually, you’ll get the rule (definition of Defamation) and its exception (defence of truth) under one principle or under two different principles.
Now, what if, the principle does not talk about any defence, but the facts show that the person spoke the truth (which is normally a defence), which defamed another person?
- Remember: the statement is king. This is a restatement of the most important rule from the article mentioned above. If the principle hasn’t mentioned it, then that part of the principle, at least for that particular question, does not exist.
Why you need to approach it in that way is because, the Legal Reasoning section does not, generally, require you to know the “law” as such, i.e., you appear for the exam without any prior knowledge (as the website says).
Although that’s not the complete truth in practice (you need to know some of the basics), the way the problem framers seek to enforce it is by giving you a principle to apply. Naturally, if they are spending paper and ink to print a principle across 50,000 question papers, then it’s smart to assume that they want you to follow it, and only it – not what you want to apply, and definitely not what you think should have been in the principle instead.
If you were supposed to apply your own “principle” or knowledge, then they would not be spending their resources uselessly.
The principle that is there in the paper has been given for a reason; the principle that has been left out has been omitted, also for a reason. Keeping that in mind, you do not venture outside the scope of the given principle.
- Secondly, it’s an application-based exam. As said above, one needs to know what to apply AND where to apply it.
If you’re given a principle (the rule), and you know that it is missing an element (let’s say the exception to the rule), then that is because they want you to apply the rule only and not the exception.
Also, for the nth time, the statement is king.
- Thirdly, coming to the options:
Exhibit A – where the options are quite closely worded, making them almost indistinguishable;
Exhibit B – there are two options, one which is absolutely correct but does not answer using the principle, and the other one which is less appealing, but correctly applies the principle to answer the question.
The option (answer) normally has two parts – the first part where it answers the question/makes an assertion in a “yes” or “no” (eg. “X is liable/not liable…” and its many other variations); the second part, where it gives the reason behind the assertion made in the first part (eg. “…because he intended/did not intend to kill Y”).
For Exhibit A, there is only one correct answer and you know it, it is very distinguishable from the rest of the three options if you know what to look for. In most cases, you do that by picking the most specific and to the point, than the others. We have discussed this in detail, below.
For Exhibit B, you need to be careful that the option uses the given principle in its reasoning, to decide the case. So, in certain cases, they give you an option which is more appealing (the absolutely correct one, according to you), but if you’re careful enough, you’ll possibly find a flaw in the reasoning given (the second part of the answer).
This is simply a distraction planted to sway you away from the less appealing one, which is may not be what you’re looking for, but its reasoning is correctly derived from the given principle, and is nonetheless the correct answer.
It’s justified at the end of the day, since you are competing with half-a-lakh people. The universities strive to ensure that the test picks out the best of the lot. So, it can’t be that easy!
The key here is to choose the answer where both the assertion and the reason are true and correct.
- Fourthly, while choosing between an answer which is specific in nature and one that is general, pick the more specific one, for starters.
Be cautioned, however, that the more specific an answer is, the more risky it is to choose it. That is because, a more specific answer contains more number of facts/elements to it – which increases the scope of error.
For example: (1) “X is liable for theft”; (2) “X is liable for theft, because Y was the owner (not possessor) of the property”. Let’s say, the accused X is liable.
Since theft is a crime against possession of property, answer (2) is wrong. Answer (1), despite being a very generic statement, is accurate (although without any reasoning, in this case) and therefore correct.
Sometimes, the reasoning states certain facts to justify the assertion – so, you have to check whether that fact is given in the factual situation of the problem. A mere assumption is not a fact, and an option containing an assumption would be wrong.
The solution, therefore, is to go from Specific to General.
Since the most specific answer is the best answer and should therefore be your first choice, you look at that one first, and check whether it has factual or logical flaws. If it has, then you move to the second most specific answer, and so on.
- Lastly, what if all the options are flawed in some way? How do you then pick the correct one?
Relax! This one is no dead end, either.
Step 1, you stick to the principle. Do not move an inch away from that. One which does not reason using the principle is probably not the answer. That one is not your friend; the principle is.
Step 2, if you have more than one option left, you look for the option which is more specific AND accurate.
Step 3, if you don’t have an answer already, repeat Steps 1 & 2. You’ll be surprised what re-checking can do.
That, is the Art of Reasoning.
You pick what is most reasonable, and not what is right/wrong. Leave the latter task to your Boards examiners.