LSAT Reading : Parallel Reasoning and Analogous Cases in Law Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Parallel Reasoning In Law Passages

Adapted from The Path of Law, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1897)

When we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well known profession. We are studying what we shall want in order to appear before judges, or to advise people in such a way as to keep them out of court. The reason why it is a profession, why people will pay lawyers to argue for them or to advise them, is that in societies like ours the command of the public force is intrusted to the judges in certain cases, and the whole power of the state will be put forth, if necessary, to carry out their judgments and decrees. People want to know under what circumstances and how far they will run the risk of coming against what is so much stronger than themselves, and hence it becomes a business to find out when this danger is to be feared. The object of our study, then, is prediction, the prediction of the incidence of the public force through the instrumentality of the courts.

The means of the study are a body of reports, of treatises, and of statutes, in this country and in England, extending back for six hundred years, and now increasing annually by hundreds. In these sibylline leaves are gathered the scattered prophecies of the past upon the cases in which the axe will fall. These are what properly have been called the oracles of the law. Far the most important and pretty nearly the whole meaning of every new effort of legal thought is to make these prophecies more precise, and to generalize them into a thoroughly connected system. The process is one, from a lawyer's statement of a case, eliminating as it does all the dramatic elements with which his client's story has clothed it, and retaining only the facts of legal import, up to the final analyses and abstract universals of theoretic jurisprudence. The reason why a lawyer does not mention that his client wore a white hat when he made a contract, while Mrs. Quickly would be sure to dwell upon it along with the parcel gilt goblet and the sea-coal fire, is that he foresees that the public force will act in the same way whatever his client had upon his head. It is to make the prophecies easier to be remembered and to be understood that the teachings of the decisions of the past are put into general propositions and gathered into textbooks, or that statutes are passed in a general form. The primary rights and duties with which jurisprudence busies itself again are nothing but prophecies. One of the many evil effects of the confusion between legal and moral ideas, about which I shall have something to say in a moment, is that theory is apt to get the cart before the horse, and consider the right or the duty as something existing apart from and independent of the consequences of its breach, to which certain sanctions are added afterward. But, as I shall try to show, a legal duty so called is nothing but a prediction that if a man does or omits certain things he will be made to suffer in this or that way by judgment of the court; and so of a legal right.

The number of our predictions when generalized and reduced to a system is not unmanageably large. They present themselves as a finite body of dogma which may be mastered within a reasonable time. It is a great mistake to be frightened by the ever-increasing number of reports. The reports of a given jurisdiction in the course of a generation take up pretty much the whole body of the law, and restate it from the present point of view. We could reconstruct the corpus from them if all that went before were burned.

Which of the following most closely resembles proper theoretic jurisprudence as it is described by the author?

Possible Answers:

A philosopher conducting thought experiments to test the soundness of a theory under extreme cases, documenting where the theory produced counterintuitive or paradoxical results

An anthropologist conducting interviews and listening to the oral traditions of several different cultures, then constructing a theory that describes the development of cultural values in human societies

A philosopher starting with certain assumed truths and common sense principles, then combining them and teasing out their implications to deduce what must be done to resolve ethical dilemmas

A physicist working with mathematical models to construct a theory, then testing this theory by conducting experiments

A biologist noticing trends in a set of collected data, accounting and controlling for extranious variables, and creating a general model that can be applied to other relevant instances

Correct answer:

A biologist noticing trends in a set of collected data, accounting and controlling for extranious variables, and creating a general model that can be applied to other relevant instances

Explanation:

The form of theoretic jurisprudence, according to the author, is one that very closely resembles an empirical science—that is, it draws conclusions based on trends noted from relevent data, with extranious or distracting factors accounted for or removed, used to create models that predict future results. As such, the most closely analagous case would be the one that follows this pattern, especially the necessary condition that the model be useful for predicting future cases.

Example Question #1 : Extrapolating From Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action, and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action, that is prescribed by some superior, and that the inferior is bound to obey.

Thus when the supreme being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all moveable bodies must conform. And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest, when a workman forms a clock, or other piece of mechanism, he establishes at his own pleasure certain arbitrary laws for its direction; as that the hand shall describe a given space in a given time; to which law as long as the work conforms, so long it continues in perfection, and answers the end of its formation.

If we farther advance, from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws; more numerous indeed, but equally fixed and invariable. The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again—the method of animal nutrition, digestion, secretion, and all other branches of vital economy—are not left to chance, or the will of the creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great creator.

This then is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being; and in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for it's existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense, and in which it is our present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct: that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.

Which of the following examples is most closely analogous to the relationship between the two kinds of law discussed by the author in this passage?

Possible Answers:

While "book" usually refers to a bound object with pages, it can also be used to refer to a specific section of a book, analogous to chapters.

While it usually refers to institutions of higher learning, "college" can be used more broadly to refer to other kinds of societies.

"Ink" can be used in two different ways: the primary meaning (a liquid used in writing), and a figurative derived meaning (to write or sign).

While it can refer to a group of people gathered for some particular purpose, "college" usually refers to a group gathered for higher education.

"Bike" can be used to refer to either a bicycle or a motorcycle; however, the former usage is, strictly speaking, more proper than the latter.

Correct answer:

While it can refer to a group of people gathered for some particular purpose, "college" usually refers to a group gathered for higher education.

Explanation:

In this passage, the author describes laws in general before limiting the scope of his discussion to human laws (like the laws of England). The general pattern exemplified, therefore, is of a specific subset of things ("laws") that are called by the same name as the larger set of things they are a part of (i.e., human laws, usually just called "laws," are part of the broader set of things also called "laws"), with the more limited sense being the usual or relevant one. The credited response—an academic college is itself a kind of college, and is usually what is meant by "college"—is the answer that most closely follows the pattern of reasoning established by the author.

Example Question #1 : Parallel Reasoning In Law Passages

"Lynch Law" by William Floyd (2015)

“Lynch Law” as it was known can appear as a peculiar feature of the past only. Never in the present day does a mob, carrying torches, clubs, and small firearms, descend upon a county jail to take from a cell an accused criminal who is supposed to have committed a crime so heinous and unspeakable that the crowd believes the only justice is to find the nearest sturdy tree to hang the accused from. This action, so common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in the Southern portion of the United States, died out after World War II, with only a few isolated incidents, roundly disparaged, revealing the last gasp of the Lynch Law.

Perhaps the exact mechanisms of lynching culture do not exist, features of a bygone society, more rural, prejudiced, and violent than that which replaced it. Yet the attitudes have never left the consciousness of many Americans. On the chyrons of the nightly news and splashed across front pages of newspapers, accused criminals are only treated as such out of formality. In actuality, the tone of the reports reveals that the poor soul accused of a crime is assumed to be found guilty once the proper processes of the judicial system have run their course. Through a nod to a presumption of innocence and unwavering fidelity to the slow march of the courts, any sensible citizen can congratulate themselves that they are well beyond their ancestors, whether by blood or thought, who invoked the lynch law.

In actuality, a person can be arrested on the most base of suspicions, that they have the same vague hairstyle, shirt color, or peculiar mannerism of suspect’s description given by a witness. Then this poor soul will have to be questioned by any number of detectives, who look for the slightest pause, tic, or odd gaze. And heaven help him should he forget where he was for some small sliver of time. At that point, he is all but done for in front of the criminal justice system, being as he is with some apparent similarity to the description of the suspect, no alibi, and the accusations of police and prosecutors. While he is exceedingly lucky not to have to worry about being taken out of his cell and murdered underneath a large tree, he is still shunted forward to a removal from society after his placement in a labyrinthine prison system.

An example of parallel reasoning to that used in the passage would be the argument that __________.

Possible Answers:

the criminal justice system frequently reflects the manner in which the larger society wishes to approach issues of crime

the creation of new forms of punishment frequently pushes out older forms of punishment which become unpopular

public shaming is no longer as prevalent, but violations of societal mores still cause significant discussion in society

working towards a more fair system of justice is frequently an inconsistent and uneven process

many formerly common punishments are now seen by society as cruel and unusual

Correct answer:

public shaming is no longer as prevalent, but violations of societal mores still cause significant discussion in society

Explanation:

The author argues that assumptions of guilt and desires for punishment towards those assumed to be criminals are largely the same as when lynching was prevalent, even though lynching is now almost nonexistent. Similarly, public shaming might no longer be common, but the impulses that caused public shaming still exist throughout society.

Example Question #4 : Parallel Reasoning And Analogous Cases In Law Passages

Adapted from the Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice Morrison Waite in the United States Supreme Court Case Reynolds v. U.S. 98 U.S. 145 (1878)

The word "religion" is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed.

Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the colonies and states to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining [98 U.S. 145, 163] heretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the states, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State having under consideration “a bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion” postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the people be requested “to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of assembly.”

This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a "Memorial and Remonstrance," which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated "that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator," was not within the cognizance of civil government. [Semple's Virginia Baptists, Appendix.] At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, "for establishing religious freedom," drafted by Mr. Jefferson, was passed. [1 Jeff. Works, 45; 2 Howison, Hist. of Va. 298.] In the preamble of this act (12 Hening's Stat. 84) religious freedom is defined; and after a recital "that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty," it is declared "that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order." In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the state.

The author's reference that "religion is not defined in the Constitution" is similar to which other Constitutional language?

Possible Answers:

The requirement that a President must be at least 35 years of age

Article Five of the Constitution allowing for the document to be amended in the future

The First Amendment's guarantee of "the freedom of speech, or of the press"

The lack of a definition for "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

The use of the phrase "we, the people of the United States" in the Preamble to the Constitution

Correct answer:

The lack of a definition for "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

Explanation:

The debate over what "religion" means is a necessity for the author when discussing the First Amendment, despite the lack of a clear definition in the document itself. Similarly, while the Eighth Amendment explicitly bans any "cruel and unusual punishment," it gives no guidelines as to what exactly would be termed "cruel and unusual."

Example Question #1 : Analogous Cases In Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Municipal law, thus understood, is properly defined to be "a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong." Let us endeavor to explain its several properties as they arise out of this definition.

And, first, it is a rule; not a transient sudden order from a superior to or concerning a particular person; but something permanent, uniform, and universal. Therefore, a particular act of the legislature to confiscate the goods of Titius or to attaint him of high treason does not enter into the idea of a municipal law: for the operation of this act is spent upon Titius only and has no relation to the community in general. But an act to declare that the crime of which Titius is accused shall be deemed high treason; this has permanency, uniformity, and universality, and therefore is properly a rule. It is also called a rule to distinguish it from advice or counsel, which we are at liberty to follow or not, as we see proper, and to judge upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the thing advised. Whereas our obedience to the law depends not upon our approbation, but upon the maker's will. Counsel is only matter of persuasion, law is matter of injunction; counsel acts only upon the willing, law upon the unwilling also.

It is also called a rule to distinguish it from a compact or agreement; for a compact is a promise proceeding from us, and law is a command directed to us. The language of a compact is, "I will, or will not, do this”; that of a law is, "Thou shalt, or shalt not, do it." It is true there is an obligation that a compact carries with it, equal in point of conscience to that of a law; but then the original of the obligation is different. In compacts, we ourselves determine and promise what shall be done, before we are obliged to do it; in laws, we are obliged to act, without ourselves determining or promising any thing at all. Upon these accounts law is defined to be "a rule."

It is likewise "a rule prescribed,” because a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law. It is requisite that this resolution be notified to the people who are to obey it. But the manner in which this notification is to be made is matter of very great indifference. It may be notified by universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication, and is the case of the common law of England. It may be notified, viva voce, by officers appointed for that purpose, as is done with regard to proclamations, and such acts of parliament as are appointed to be publicly read in churches and other assemblies. It may lastly be notified by writing, printing, or the like; which is the general course taken with all our acts of parliament.

Yet, whatever way is made use of, it is incumbent on the promulgators to do it in the most public and perspicuous manner; not like Caligula, who wrote his laws in a very small character, and hung them up upon high pillars, the more effectually to ensnare the people. There is still a more unreasonable method than this, which is called making of laws ex post facto; when after an action is committed, the legislator then for the first time declares it to have been a crime, and inflicts a punishment upon the person who has committed it. Here it is impossible that the party could foresee that an action, innocent when it was done, should be afterwards converted to guilt by a subsequent law; he had therefore no cause to abstain from it, and all punishment for not abstaining must of consequence be cruel and unjust. But when this rule is in the usual manner notified, or prescribed, it is then the subject's business to be thoroughly acquainted therewith; for if ignorance, of what he might know, were admitted as a legitimate excuse, the laws would be of no effect, but might always be eluded with impunity.

Which of the following is most analogous with the author's conception of a law as explained in the passage?

Possible Answers:

A president declares a certain day a national day of mourning following a catastrophe and orders that all government offices be closed on that day.

A local school board approves a set of teacher-hiring standards during a public meeting.

An attorney drafts a contract between two parties, both of whom agree to follow its terms.

A government agency issues a set of guidelines that clarify and explain a new regulation.

An international judicial body decides that certain actions that took place during a war violated common principles of ethics and morality, and codify procedures under which the perpetrators can be tried.

Correct answer:

A local school board approves a set of teacher-hiring standards during a public meeting.

Explanation:

The author lays out several necessary features of laws: that they be given from a superior to an inferior; that they be sufficiently promulgated; that they apply generally, rather than to particular instances and cases; and that they oblige, rather than council or advise. The credited response is the only one that does not violate one of these necessary conditions.

Example Question #2 : Extrapolating From Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Municipal law, thus understood, is properly defined to be "a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong." Let us endeavor to explain its several properties as they arise out of this definition.

And, first, it is a rule; not a transient sudden order from a superior to or concerning a particular person; but something permanent, uniform, and universal. Therefore, a particular act of the legislature to confiscate the goods of Titius or to attaint him of high treason does not enter into the idea of a municipal law: for the operation of this act is spent upon Titius only and has no relation to the community in general. But an act to declare that the crime of which Titius is accused shall be deemed high treason; this has permanency, uniformity, and universality, and therefore is properly a rule. It is also called a rule to distinguish it from advice or counsel, which we are at liberty to follow or not, as we see proper, and to judge upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the thing advised. Whereas our obedience to the law depends not upon our approbation, but upon the maker's will. Counsel is only matter of persuasion, law is matter of injunction; counsel acts only upon the willing, law upon the unwilling also.

It is also called a rule to distinguish it from a compact or agreement; for a compact is a promise proceeding from us, and law is a command directed to us. The language of a compact is, "I will, or will not, do this”; that of a law is, "Thou shalt, or shalt not, do it." It is true there is an obligation that a compact carries with it, equal in point of conscience to that of a law; but then the original of the obligation is different. In compacts, we ourselves determine and promise what shall be done, before we are obliged to do it; in laws, we are obliged to act, without ourselves determining or promising any thing at all. Upon these accounts law is defined to be "a rule."

It is likewise "a rule prescribed,” because a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law. It is requisite that this resolution be notified to the people who are to obey it. But the manner in which this notification is to be made is matter of very great indifference. It may be notified by universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication, and is the case of the common law of England. It may be notified, viva voce, by officers appointed for that purpose, as is done with regard to proclamations, and such acts of parliament as are appointed to be publicly read in churches and other assemblies. It may lastly be notified by writing, printing, or the like; which is the general course taken with all our acts of parliament.

Yet, whatever way is made use of, it is incumbent on the promulgators to do it in the most public and perspicuous manner; not like Caligula, who wrote his laws in a very small character, and hung them up upon high pillars, the more effectually to ensnare the people. There is still a more unreasonable method than this, which is called making of laws ex post facto; when after an action is committed, the legislator then for the first time declares it to have been a crime, and inflicts a punishment upon the person who has committed it. Here it is impossible that the party could foresee that an action, innocent when it was done, should be afterwards converted to guilt by a subsequent law; he had therefore no cause to abstain from it, and all punishment for not abstaining must of consequence be cruel and unjust. But when this rule is in the usual manner notified, or prescribed, it is then the subject's business to be thoroughly acquainted therewith; for if ignorance, of what he might know, were admitted as a legitimate excuse, the laws would be of no effect, but might always be eluded with impunity.

Which of the following is most analogous to "universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication," as is mentioned in the bolded and underlined selection in the fourth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

As proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, each 10 December is Human Rights Day throughout the world.

A certain ancient diocese celebrates its patron saint's day on 25 June every year, despite there being no record of a proclamation or edict establishing this.

While it used to be the custom at a certain college, for reasons that are lost to history, to have a torchlit procession with a dead duck around the quad, this custom is today all but extinct and known to only a few historians.

It is generally considered a breech of social protocol for a man of whatever station to wear a hat, except as a vestment, inside a church.

In England, a trail or bridleway that has been used at least once in the last year may not be obstructed by the landowner whose property it crosses, as was established in a royal decree from the Norman era.

Correct answer:

A certain ancient diocese celebrates its patron saint's day on 25 June every year, despite there being no record of a proclamation or edict establishing this.

Explanation:

The sense of the highlighted passage suggests that, while the law or principle that is now followed throughout its jurisdiction as a binding law must have been at some time promulgated in the (presumably) distant past, the original edict of promulgation, if there ever was one (e.g., assuming the law was not promulgated verbally), has been lost. Thus, the necessary conditions for the credited response are that the rule be a legal rule, binding and compelling; that it be recognized as law in its jurisdiction; and that, if there ever was a document by which it was first promulgated, that document be lost to time. The credited response is the one that most closely fits these necessary conditions.

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