Dorothy Secol, CLA
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The first thing to remember when writing a legal document, including a memorandum of law is that clarity is what you aim for. You must be clear about what you want to say, and how you want the reader to understand what you are saying. Be precise about what you are writing. You cannot persuade a court to adopt your point of view if it is vague or ambiguous.

Next, write clearly using as little legalese as possible. Write as if you are conversing with the reader. Write to be understood; don’t show off with long legal phrases or words for which the reader needs a legal dictionary. Use shorter words instead of longer words, and shorter sentences. Use strong nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs. An example of this is “The rule applies here” instead of “The rule is applicable here”. Cut unnecessary words such as “As demonstrated” and do not use phrases such as “we respectfully request that...”. Do not use “We believe”.

Keep your paragraphs short, limited to four or five sentences if possible. Use headings and subheadings to keep your reader’s thoughts organized while he/she is reading your memorandum. Try to avoid footnotes and personality attacks.

The first paragraph of your memorandum should be as attention-getting as any other lead-in piece of writing. Draw your reader in. Make it interesting. Be creative and promote your argument. Show that you have style. In your preliminary statement or immediately after it, summarize, in a few paragraphs or lines, why your reader should grant the relief sought.

Your statement of disputed facts should be a succinct and clear paragraph in which each disputed fact, or fact as the case may be, is stated simply. Next, start your arguments. Again, give each point you wish to argue, a heading or subheading. Be thorough in your headings. An example would be “The Court Should Grant Summary Judgment Because There is No Valid Lien to Avoid.” Finally, give a conclusion as to why your reader should grant the relief sought.

If this is an interoffice memorandum, the format is the same, except that you are not asking for relief, but giving law and argument regarding the issues or questions that you have been assigned. An internal memorandum is a discussion of the case.

Always think carefully about the persuasive force of the precedent, and discuss the holding of that case in your memorandum. Tell the reader the holding of any case you cite, first. Then discuss how your case relates to the precedent.

Use the parties names in your memorandum, not their status. Say “Mr. Smith” instead of “the defendant”. Shorten names, such as “National Tree Huggers Association” to “National Tree Huggers”, but do not use letters as a short form, such as NTHA.

Try not to use block quotations too much. Most readers skip over these. If you must use a block quotation, summarize the substance in it in the sentence immediately preceding it. You will lose your reader using block quotations if you precede them with “In Smith vs. Jones the court held...”. Tease your reader by using a full summary such as “In Smith vs. Jones the court held that our client’s argument is valid and the Jones argument fails.

Finally, be sure to proof read your memorandum. There should be no misspellings, typographical errors or grammatical errors. When there are errors your point can be lost as they are a distraction to the reader.

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