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Five Resolutions for New Attorneys

Better Memos

  1. Serve the meat first.

    Make sure the “question presented” and “brief answer” include enough key facts to stand alone. These sections should tell the reader what happened, what the legal issue is, and how it will resolve.
  2. The 60-second rule.

    If someone found your memo on the floor, would he or she grasp the problem and the solution after reading a page or two? Few memos pass this test.
  3. Cut the self-reference.

    Avoid this sort of drivel: “This memo will first discuss X, but because the memo is not supposed to rely too much on X, the memo will then discuss Y at great length based on my current research as it stands to date.” Just declare which issues matter—and then tackle them succinctly.
  4. Rich headings.

    Headings should convey your conclusions much as newspaper headlines do. Avoid asking questions or merely announcing a topic. Readers love substantive headings, but they’ll also help you focus your sections on practical points rather than on legal issues in a vacuum.
  5. Today’s rule, not yesterday’s case.

    The biggest flaw in most memos is excessive reliance on cases. The reader does not want to wade through dozens of case summaries, each one analogized or distinguished methodically and in isolation. Instead, use your judgment to derive take-away principles that supervisors can apply to their clients’ problems.

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