How to write a Legal Memorandum for dummies
Writing a legal memorandum shouldn’t be that difficult. This is a document written by attorneys to present and defend a particular case. It’s based on a question or premise that must be answered.
An important part when drafting the document is not to include personal, value, or emotional judgments since it would lose credibility. The purpose is to present solid and law-based arguments.
If you have never written a legal memorandum or have doubts about how to start, here is a guide for dummies that anyone can understand.
Before writing the memo
Attorneys usually have to write many documents, some more formal than others. So, if you are interested in learning other writing formats, you can start here: How to write an affidavit.
However, if you’re doing a legal memorandum, here are a few things you should do before writing the memo that will help you be more clear about your ideas.
1. Collect all the client’s information
You should meet or call the client related to the case and ask for all the necessary information.
Besides their personal data, you should also ask any questions you have in mind that may help you to write the document. Also, it’s common that the client may have some doubts, so use this moment to answer them.
On the other hand, if as an attorney you are going to charge for the writing of this document, it is important that you inform the client about the prices and forms of payment; this way you will both be on the same page.
Generally, payments can be divided into two parts: the first one to close the agreement, and the second when you deliver the memorandum to the client.
Also, you can choose payment methods such as cash, transfers, and even checks.
2. Review other cases
Probably the case that you are going to be working with is not the first one, so you should search for other cases to see the approach they had in that situation.
Also, if the resolution of that case is similar to your conclusion, it will be an excellent way to validate your point of view.
3. Check legal sources
Apart from the client information and references from other cases, you must support your argument with legal bases.
- You can get quotes and statements from other attorneys: if you are not familiar with the area of the law, you can lean on others with more experience.
- Be sure to include and list the articles you are going to use, according to how they appear in the law.
- Go to a law library and talk to a librarian, they can recommend you reference books according to the area you’re working in.
- Another alternative is to subscribe to digital platforms such as Westlaw (legal research service and online database for lawyers, especially in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia) or LexisNexis (computer-assisted legal research).
Writing a legal memorandum
After having all the information collected, you can start writing the document. A tip, before you start, is to make an outline ordering your ideas, so it will be easier to know where to start.
So, what’s the structure of a legal memorandum? Generally it’s written in this order:
Includes the basic information of the person who sends and receives the memo, the date, the subject in question, etc. It should be presented like this:
- TO: (The reader. Depending on the case, it can be: the client, another attorney, a judge, etc.).
- FROM: (Person who sends the document).
- DATE: (Of submission).
- FILE: (File number if it’s necessary)
- SUBJECT: (Briefly describes the topic)
This should present the main issue of the document. It must be clear and objective, without adjectives or value judgments.
In most cases, it’s written in a single sentence, and it should be possible to answer it with “Yes,” “No,” “Probably Yes,” or “Probably No”.
In this part, you must answer and briefly explain the question you asked before. You can do it in 4 or 5 sentences, without including quotes, since this is your position about the subject.
Here you will describe the client’s information and sustain it with all your research, objectively.
Use your best facts to validate what you said in the Short Answer: references from other cases, quotes from attorneys, data, evidence, etc.
Do not express any opinion at this point; only facts and information.
About the styles of writing, you can write in chronological order (if it makes sense), but an ascending structure is also recommended: in which you go through the problem from the most general to the most specific.
NOTE: If, during the investigation, you find questions that don’t have a clear answer in the law, you can present assumptions. In this case, rename “Facts” to “Facts and Assumptions”.
This is one of the essential parts of the document, as it presents the laws (such as legislation, cases, and others) and how they can be applied to the case to get a solution.
There are two ways to write this information:
- I.R.A.C. (Issue / Rule / Analysis / Conclusion).
- C.I.R.A.C. (Conclusion / Issue / Rule / Analysis / Conclusion).
The most used is the second format, since it’s more comfortable to understand the order of events and is more persuasive since it presents the conclusion twice.
NOTE: It’s recommended to use just a single approach or strategy, well supported, rather than multiple ones.
Finally, you get to the conclusion in which you must present a summary of the most important things of the memorandum, as well as your point of view of what should be done in the case.
This should be written between 5 to 10 sentences.
Example of a legal memorandum
In case you need it, click here to read an example of a legal memorandum.
Writing format of a legal memorandum
Although there is not a proper way to do it, here’s a writing format that you could use:
- Font: Arial. In headings should be bold.
- Numbering at the bottom: starting on the second page.
- Single spacing in “Question Presented” and “Short Answer”.
- Double spacing in the rest of the document.
- Left justification.
- Read and review the document with someone you trust or have experience in the same issue, so you’ll make sure there’s no missing information, and it’s easy to understand.
- Make some copies and ask the recipient to sign it as “received”.
- If the recipient asks you to add new information or make some changes, modify it, and return it.
- Consider including an index of contents if the document is very long; this will help the person reading it to identify the information quickly.
- Make sure you have correctly cited all sources. You also can include a “Sources” section at the end to indicate where you find the information.
- In “Facts”, if applicable, you can include diagrams, charts, or tables to present relevant information more easily.