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How to Write a Legal Memorandum. October 13, 2009 Paul Dawson Dolden Wallace Folick LLP. 1. Purpose. Two purposes of legal memos: Explanation – what is the law, how does it apply. Persuasion – your client, opposing counsel, or a judge, but - always - your boss. .

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how to write a legal memorandum

How to Write a Legal Memorandum

October 13, 2009

Paul Dawson

Dolden Wallace Folick LLP

1 purpose
1. Purpose

Two purposes of legal memos:

  • Explanation – what is the law, how does it apply.
  • Persuasion – your client, opposing counsel, or a judge, but - always - your boss.
2 other forms of legal writing
2. Other Forms of Legal Writing

Memos differ from:

  • Factums and written arguments – more formal, overtly persuasive.
  • Opinions – more focused on advice.
  • Academic papers – your client will not pay for your dissertation.
3 competing principles
3. Competing Principles

There is a tension in every legal memo:

  • Accuracy – your memo must be complete and correct.
  • Economy – you must work within time and money constraints.

VS.

4 preparation 1
4. Preparation (1)

Understand your instructions:

  • What is the question?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How does the memo relate to the bigger picture?
  • What work product is required?
  • When is it required?
4 preparation 2
4. Preparation (2)

Conduct your research with the memo in mind:

  • keep an organized research trail
  • use tables or a system of classification to sort your cases
  • highlight
  • make hyperlinks
  • save cases electronically
5 structure 1
5. Structure (1)

This should be a useful document, now and in future:

  • Identify the file by name and number
  • Identify the topic – lots of memos on some files
  • Identify yourself, and the recipient
  • Include the date – and the date of any subsequent revisions
5 structure 2
5. Structure (2)

Question

  • “You have asked me…”
  • Introduces what follows
  • Covers your a…nalysis.
5 structure 3
5. Structure (3)

Answer

  • When finished, you may know more than the instructing lawyer.
  • What’s the “bottom line”?
  • The rest of the memo may never be read.
5 structure 4
5. Structure (4)

Facts/Assumptions:

  • Only if necessary – know what is relevant
  • Highlight areas where more information is needed – may help with discoveries
  • Some memos need more facts, e.g., quantum memos
  • Consider inserting chronology where facts about timing are critical, e.g., contractual negotiation, limitation issues
5 structure 5
5. Structure (5)

Analysis

  • Lay out your tools – describe and cite statutes, key cases, and concepts
  • Then use them – how does your case or issue relate?
5 structure 6
5. Structure (6)

Don’t bother with Conclusion, if it only repeats your Answer

Appendices – lengthy statutory extracts, additional cases, maybe a bibliography

6 formatting 1
6. Formatting (1)
  • Headings – essential, but not an excuse for poor connections and transitions
  • Numbering – use to lay out sequential propositions, or with headings in longer memos
  • Bullets – use for multiple examples of more or less equal importance
  • Quotations – inset, different font size, or italicize; block quotes don’t get read.
6 formatting 2
6. Formatting (2)
  • Italics, bolding, and underlining – use sparingly, and consistently
  • Tables – sometimes, they just make sense.
  • References
      • Lawyers and judges expect citations in the text.
      • Use footnotes for marginal commentary.
      • Avoid endnotes except for academic work.
7 style 1
7. Style (1)
  • Above all, be clear.
  • Sift down to what is truly relevant.
  • Provide all necessary details about cases, but no more.
  • Never refer to a case without saying why it matters.
7 style 2
7. Style (2)
  • Never quote from a case without introducing or summarizing it.
  • Use proper citations
  • Proofread – typos weaken credibility
  • Simple language – short sentences – to the point.
7 style 3
7. Style (3)
  • Avoid the passive voice, false nominalization, and unnecessary words.
  • Careful with informality, colloquialisms, and rhetorical flourishes; avoid humour.  Your client is paying for this.
  • Add unexpected value – be alert for side issues the instructing lawyer may have overlooked.
  • Answer the question!
8 further resources
8. Further Resources
  • Eugene Meehan, Q.C. “Strategic Legal Writing”

(http://www.supremecourtlaw.ca/default_e.asp?id=79)

  • George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language

(http://orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit)

good luck
Good Luck!

Paul Dawson

Dolden Wallace Folick LLP