BigLaw 101: How to Write Your 1st Professional Legal Memo
As a lowly summer or first-year associate, one of the things you will definitely be tasked to do is write a memo. And while you wrote a legal memo in your legal writing class, you can be sure that writing one at your fancy BigLaw firm will be nothing like your law school homework assignment.
Getting an assignment to write a memo should not send you screaming home trying to dig up your legal writing book to figure out what the hell goes into a memo. Here are seven steps to writing a great first legal memorandum:
1. Understand the Assignment.
This may seem pretty basic but if you don't understand the assignment, then you will not write a good memo. Being a good associate, we're sure that you have a pad and pen with you when you go into the partner's office to receive the assignment -- use them. And don't be afraid to ask the partner questions. Partners are people too. Remember, there are no stupid questions.
2. Know Your Audience.
Whom are you writing the memo for? The assigning partner? The client? Make sure you know who will be reading the memo, and if they have any particular requests, formatting issues, or other peculiarities that you should know.
3. Do Your Research.
Clearly you're going to have to back up whatever you state in the memo with good research -- probably one of the skills that you actually feel confident in. If law school teaches you one thing, it's how to research. Show off your research skills and find the best supporting case law and statutes.
4. Follow the Format.
There is a memo format that you should follow. The heading should have the following info: To, From, Re:, and Date. Next, there are the sections of the memo: Question Presented, Short Answer, Facts, Discussion, and Conclusion. Stick to this format and you're off to an excellent start.
5. Cite Your Sources.
Make sure you accurately cite your sources. This just doesn't mean getting citations right, it means that the sources actually say what you are saying they say. We all have arguments that we need to make and support, but don't twist words around and take them out of context. Sometimes you have to deliver bad news and if the law is not on your side, and that's OK. That's what your clients are paying BigLaw the big bucks for.
6. Attach Copies of Sources.
This will depend on the person giving you the assignment; some partners will want to see the cases you relied on, others won't. Ask upfront when you get the assignment so you know what is expected.
7. Edit, Edit and Edit Again.
Before you turn in any assignments -- memos or otherwise -- make sure they are perfect. Check your spelling; check your grammar; and No. Typos. Ever.
We can't write the assignment for you, but we're getting pretty close (insert shoulder brushing here). Follow these seven easy steps and you'll have yourself one great law office memorandum.
Editor's Note, January 10th, 2017: This article was first published in December, 2013. It has since been updated.
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