A legal memorandum, also known as a memorandum of law, is a document that spells out the facts of a particular case, what laws apply to that case, as well as how those laws should be interpreted and/or applied to reach a decision. An attorney prepares a memorandum of law to succinctly explain the facts and the law in advance of a hearing, as this practice helps the parties to a lawsuit avoid lengthy expositions in court and prepares judges and juries for their deliberations.
Ask the Question
A legal memorandum begins with a concise statement of the question at hand. For example, the memo may be considering whether an employer's actions constitute violation of federal labor regulations, or the Americans with Disabilities Act. This section of the memorandum should cite the relevant law accurately by name and number. For example, the federal ADA law can be cited as 42 U.S.C. Section 12101 et seq. (2000). It is common practice to attach a photocopy of relevant laws and regulations or to quote relevant parts of the law in the body of the memorandum.
Provide the Answer
A succinct answer or opinion by the attorney that allows the reader to immediately understand the basic conclusion that will be reached in the body of the memo can follow the question. There may be qualifications and conditions. For example, a plaintiff may be able to prove a violation of the law if he can prove the defendant's intent, or provide conclusive written evidence or testimony that will be admissible in court. However, a legal memo is not the same as a legal brief; while a brief attempts to persuade, the legal memorandum aims to simply inform.
Present the Facts
The facts of the case follow the preliminaries, with the attorney presenting any relevant events, statements and evidence that are germane to the legal question at hand. If the author relies on written records, he must cite the source title and page number. If witness testimony is used, the deposition or recorded statement must be referenced. The memorandum must also discuss any relevant facts or conditions that are either unknown or to be determined, and that should affect the decision in the case.
Discuss Your Interpretation
The discussion section gives the attorney's own interpretation of the law and how it may apply to the facts already presented. In this section, the author may give a short history of the relevant law and how it has already been applied in similar cases. Courts rely heavily on precedent; if a case directly "on point" has already been decided and conforms to the attorney's interpretation, the attorney has a strong argument in favor of a similar conclusion by a judge or jury. The discussion may also touch on possible objections and the specific evidence to be brought to the trial or hearing by the attorney and his client.
Conclude by Summarizing
The final section offers the author's conclusion, which should logically arise from the previous discussion section. The conclusion to a legal memorandum is clear, concise and brief -- and in most cases, is a single sentence giving the opinion the author believes that the court may render. Reference notes linked to citations in the text normally follow, if they have not been given on individual pages of the memorandum.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.