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. Typically, junior attorneys write memos for more senior attorneys to memorialize and summarize research and client information. In most law schools, writing a legal office memorandum is one of the first skills law students learn in their legal writing course. The Purpose of a Legal Office Memorandum Most memoranda serve one of two functions: analyzing a client’s specific legal problem or answering questions that the client’s particular situation poses. Before writing, a lawyer will research the applicable mandatory (binding) case law and the persuasive (nonbinding) case law to determine the legal landscape. The lawyer will also review any applicable statutory provisions or regulatory issuances from administrative bodies. After finishing the research process, the lawyer will then interpret the client’s situation in light of the applicable law. An office memorandum sums up the lawyer’s analysis and supplies the facts the lawyer relied upon in reaching the conclusion. The main point of the memorandum should be to advise whether a client can lawfully engage in conduct or predict how a decision maker will rule on a legal problem. The Format of a Legal Office Memorandum Most memoranda share a common format: a heading, an issue, a short answer, a statement of facts, a discussion, and a conclusion. The Heading consists of four lines: to, from, date, and subject (re:). You should include your client’s name as well as a descriptive subject in the re: line, as each client file typically will require multiple memoranda. The Issue section usually contains a statement of the issue the memo addresses. Sometimes the issue is called the “question presented.” The Short Answer answers the question presented succinctly and should supply a summary of the key reasons supporting the answer. The Statement of Facts section, often shortened to "Facts," includes an objective statement of the client’s facts that are pertinent to the issue described in the memo. The Discussion section collects and describes the law, both favorable and unfavorable, applicable to the client’s situation. The Conclusion is a short section summarizing the contents of the entire memo. It pulls together the most critical facts and legal analysis into a few sentences. In shorter memoranda, lawyers commonly omit the conclusion.
A legal memorandum is a highly structured type of writing that follows certain conventions. Because each legal problem is distinct, no two memoranda will be organised in precisely the same way. Do not slavishly follow the sample memorandum. Rather, focus on learning about the general structure and components of this form of writing, and apply them to your research assignment in the most effective way for your particular problem. A legal memorandum is comprised of certain standard elements: • • • • • the heading a summary of the relevant facts succinct identification of the legal issues a discussion of the law relevant to the legal issues, and application of that law to the facts a conclusion that is responsive to the legal issues.
Each of these elements is discussed in greater detail below.
the order is chronological. If the Issues and Conclusions will not make sense without reference to the Facts. Include legal elements that are essential to resolution of the issues.The heading The heading should identify the author and recipient of the memorandum. You must succinctly identify the correct legal issues. State the facts objectively and clearly. remember that your reader does not want to be kept in suspense. then put the Facts first. within the context of the facts of your case. Decide which elements are problematic and which are straightforward. responsive answer must be provided as near the beginning of your memorandum as possible. your reader may want to see the Issues and Conclusions first. and subject matter. the more effective it will be. Which format? There are various ways of dealing with conclusions in a legal memorandum: Format 1 Format 2 Facts Facts Issues Conclusions Discussion Issues Issues Conclusions Brief Answer Facts Discussion Discussion Conclusion Writing and analysis Analysis You need to analyze the law throughout the process of information gathering and writing. client identification. Issues The Issues portion of the memorandum is crucial. Conclusions When preparing a legal memorandum. Facts The Facts portion should list the relevant facts on which you have relied in researching and preparing the memorandum. Use your outline of the issues to structure your writing and to advance your analysis. Alternatively. The Facts portion can either precede or follow the Issues and Conclusions portions of the memorandum. One of the best ways to improve your analysis and your writing is to create a structured outline of the issues by breaking down each legal issue into its constituent elements. indicate this. A crisp. The more narrow and descriptive your issue statement is. This prevents clutter and inconsistent references to the same thing. clear. If there is more than one issue to be addressed. Use definitions to standardize terminology for persons and things that will be referred to frequently in the memorandum. Conclusion Discussion Facts Brief Answer Format 3 Issues Format 4 . if the Facts portion of the memorandum is quite lengthy. list the issues in the order in which you will be discussing them in the memorandum. Usually. If you have made assumptions. and include the date.
The first step is to state the legal issue. Try to avoid using equivocal language in your memorandum. Equivocation One of the hardest parts of writing a legal memorandum is to reach a defensible conclusion when the law is uncertain generally. or as it applies to your facts. or cover all jurisdictions when you deal with a particular issue. you cannot simply say that the law is unclear and leave it at that.There are specific rules of legal reasoning and techniques that will help you evaluate the cases you find. and work with those cases to formulate a legal argument. The classic formulation for this is known as IRAC. However. distinguishing cases. The Discussion portion of the memorandum should also be reviewed for equivocal language. making counter-arguments. Avoid lengthy quotations from cases. . The second step is to determine the applicable legal rule. The issue can also be referred to in the heading for this part of the Discussion section. This can be done in a couple of ways. It provides the venue for explaining and analysing the law. This section includes analysis of the rule. However. Your decision about how to divide up the legal issues will influence the way that you apply IRAC. The third step is to apply the legal rule to your facts. an explanation of the applicable legal rule. you may need to review the history of the rule and consider the policy rationale for the rule. statutes. rather than simply listing a series of individual cases. But also state what you think is the better view or probable outcome. Discussion The Discussion section is the heart of the memorandum. Since the purpose of the memorandum is to answer the legal question posed. This involves further analysis and weighing of individual cases. This is particularly important in the Conclusion section. it might be better to combine your discussion of some of the subissues. The Discussion section should be broken down into a separate part for each discrete legal issue covered in the memorandum. Although you will include an overall conclusion elsewhere in your memorandum. Try to approach this section using rules synthesized from the cases. and a conclusion in respect of that issue. The most effective style is to use a thesis sentence or paragraph that not only indicates what the issue is. • • For example. if you are dealing with cases from a number of different jurisdictions you can structure your discussion separately for each jurisdiction. I R A C IRAC need not be applied rigidly. This involves a review and analysis of the relevant cases. and considering policy issues. but tells the reader briefly what your conclusion is on the issue. and secondary sources. each resulting in a different formulation of the rule. In some circumstances there may be a practical solution that enables you to avoid confronting the uncertainty in the law. and applying it to your facts. It is sometimes referred to as rule explanation. if that would result in repetitive discussion of the same cases in different sections of the memo. usually you have to make a decision about what a court would likely do if faced with your fact situation. but does not include application of the rule to your facts. You may find there are different lines of cases. The last step is to state your conclusion on the legal issue being discussed. it is also important to reach a conclusion on each legal issue as it is dealt with in turn. The discussion of each issue should include an introduction. Depending on the nature of the legal rule. an application of the rule to the legal problem. You can summarize the issue in the form of a topic sentence or question. Sentences that begin with the phrase "It would appear that" or "It seems that" should alert you to equivocation. You may want to discuss each sub-issue separately. By all means indicate where the law is unclear.
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