A legal memorandum (or legal memo for short) is a document that sets out your research on certain legal issues. It is one of the most common forms of written communication that law students and lawyers will use. That’s why it’s important to know how to write one! So keep reading to learn more about what you should include in your legal memo along with some do’s and don’t’s about the writing process. And don’t forget to download your free legal memo template at the end of this article. It includes reminders and tips in the side margins to help you write a stellar memo!
When writing your legal memo, consider your target audience. Who will be reading your memo? Usually it will be another lawyer but sometimes, it could be a client. So make sure to cater your it to whoever is going to read your memo e.g. you’ll want to explain even basic legal concepts in a memo intended for a client. But no matter who your legal memo is intended for, always write in plain language and avoid using too much “legalese” – complicated legal terms that only lawyers and other members of the legal profession will understand like contra proferentem.
The goal is to ensure that your legal memo is easy to read. And this doesn’t stop with the words you use. It extends to the visual aspects of your legal memo as well. Use headings and subheadings, numbering, and bullet points where applicable.
What Should Your Legal Memo Include?
Your legal memo should follow either the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Argument/Analysis, Conclusion) or FILAC (Facts, Issue(s), Law, Argument/Analysis, Conclusion) method and generally should include the following sections:
- Summary Conclusion
- Discussion (Law & Analysis)
Let’s go over each of these in turn.
Provide a brief introduction to what your legal memo is about. This is where you should talk about what you’ve been asked to research. For example, “This legal memo discusses the recent amendments to the Divorce Act regarding the best interests of the Indigenous child.”
Also sometimes known as a “short conclusion,” your summary conclusion is a very brief summary of your research findings (one to two short paragraphs). The purpose of a summary conclusion is to let your reader know the answer to the legal issues straight away. If they don’t have time to read the whole memo or even flip through to the end, the summary conclusion will provide them with the answer or at least an idea of the answer that they need.
If your legal memo deals with a specific case or situation, this is where you include what has happened. Make sure to include legally relevant facts only i.e. facts that are important to answering the legal issues in your research. You can also include any background facts that provide context or help the reader understand the relevant facts but avoid including any irrelevant facts.
This is the legal question that your research is trying to answer. Your issue(s) should always be in question format e.g. “What effect do the recent amendments in the Divorce Act have on the interpretation and analysis of the best interests of the Indigenous child?”
Where appropriate, include sub-issues that are necessary to answer the main question and divide your issues into main issues and sub-issues.
This is the main bulk of your legal memo. It includes the law and your analysis.
Provide a detailed discussion of the law that applies to your research. The law should help you answer the legal issues. Use legislation and case law. What does the legislation say? What about the courts? Why? Identify whether cases are binding or persuasive (if applicable).
You can also refer to secondary sources for overall guidance or to fill in any gaps in legislation/case law. Ideally, you’d want to include at least three sources of law.
Organize this section in a logical manner (e.g. statute then case law, leading authorities first, etc.) and make sure the law you’re relying on is good law.
If it’s legislation, it should be the latest version and the section you’re citing hasn’t been repealed/struck down. If it’s case law, make sure an appeal court hasn’t overturned the decision.
Discussing the law isn’t enough. You have to apply the law to the specific problem in your research i.e. discuss how the researched law answers the legal issues. Identify the relevant legal tests that come your discussion of the law.
Consider how your legal problem falls within or outside of the legislation. Make analogies or distinguish the cases you’ve found in your research.
Remember to consider all the different contextual factors surrounding your legal problem (it will help you come to a conclusion) and make sure you support any positions you take or arguments you make by providing reasons and applying or distinguishing legal principles.
If applicable, identify any uncertainties in the law.
This is your final conclusion. It should be much longer than your summary/short conclusion above. Based on your research, come to a sound conclusion that answers the legal issues. A sound conclusion should logically flow from your discussion of the law and your analysis so summarize the “Discussion” portion of your legal memo and use it to support your conclusion.
If applicable, provide options that respond to the legal issues and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option you provide then make a practical recommendation based on your research and conclusion.
Well, there you have it. The essential elements of a legal memo: Introduction, Facts, Summary Conclusion, Discussion, and Conclusion. But remember that there is no “one size fits all” legal memo.
The contents of your legal memo should reflect the legal issues you’re trying to address. This means you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes to the elements of your legal memo by adding sections in or maybe even removing them.
For example, if you’re answering a purely legal question, there may not be a need for a Facts section. If your legal issues lead to a lot of options, it might be wise to have a separate “Options” or “Recommendations” section.
Do what makes the most sense to you. Separate the “Discussion” section into a “Law” and “Analysis” section, call the “Summary Conclusion” a “Short Conclusion” instead or ditch that section altogether. As long as you make sure to follow either the IRAC or the FILAC method, you can be creative with how you write and organize your sections.
Legal Memo Template (free download)
I’ve created a legal memo template that you can download for free below. It includes my notes on the margin that you can easily refer to while writing your legal memo.
For more templates, also check out: Law School Digital Planner
I hope you find this helpful! If you have any questions about the template, feel free to send me a message here. I’m more than happy to help. Best of luck with your legal memo!