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ANALYSIS: Six Ways to Make Your First Legal Memo Stand Out

June 3, 2021, 9:01 AM

As a summer associate, you’ll probably find that writing up the results of your first research assignment can be a daunting task. But if it’s done right, it can help you get noticed and secure that end-of-summer offer.

You are now accustomed to the pressure of writing up a final exam, but balancing the dueling pressures of accuracy and timeliness when writing a research memo is a new challenge. The assigning attorney is looking for something different than your law professors did.

Review these tips when drafting your first written work product to make sure your writing stands out.

1. Do your homework.

You should know based on the initial assignment meeting what the assigning attorney is looking for in terms of the final work product. Take the extra step to ask the attorney for a good example so that you know exactly what they want and can try to emulate it.

You can also ask junior associates in your practice group to send you a writing sample of theirs that was well received. This is a new and different writing style, so the more you read, the better.

2. Answer the question being asked.

Before you start writing, make sure you have done enough research to answer the question you were asked. Go back to your notes from the assignment meeting and make sure you know what you are supposed to answer. Legal research frequently leads you down different paths, so always keep the relevant question in mind and answer it right at the top of your work product. Once you begin writing, you can always supplement your research. But if you are answering the wrong question from the start, no amount of research or great writing can make up for it.

3. Attach all cited cases.

Whether you are writing an email or a more formal memo, you will be citing cases to support your answer. Ask the assigning attorney how they prefer to receive cited cases, and make sure to attach them in the preferred format. Go the extra mile by highlighting the relevant parts of each case so that everyone knows exactly where in the case to focus.

4. Don’t hide the ball.

Mention cases that go against your client’s position, as well as relevant cases that you did not rely on in your analysis. When a case goes against your client, do your best to distinguish it from the matter at hand and/or explain why it is not binding in this case.

You should also mention and explain why you did not rely on any relevant cases. For example, maybe the case relies on overturned precedent, misstates the case law, or is merely persuasive but not controlling. This step proactively shows the assigning attorney that you did not miss a relevant case, while providing them with information they can use later when distinguishing case law cited by an opponent.

5. End with a recommendation.

The analysis of the law and facts is critical, but you want to show that you see the bigger picture and can advise on recommended next steps. The recommendation might be a strategic move, a list of options to consider, or an acknowledgement that more research is required. But end with a conclusion that shows that you are thinking beyond the core legal principles and more like a practicing attorney.

6. Tripe check your work.

Written work product can leave a lasting impression, so never skip the bluebooking, editing, and proofreading steps in the writing process. Details matter, and sloppy work product (like, for example, misspelling the word “triple” in a heading) leaves the impression that your work cannot be trusted.

Once you have finished drafting, print out your writing and read it multiple times, at least one time out loud. If you have a trusted colleague, consider sending it to them for a fresh set of eyes.

Finally, proofread the email that your writing is attached to, so that your work product is polished from top to bottom.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find additional resources on research, writing, and document review on In Focus: Core Skills – Litigation and resources and best practices for personal growth and development on In Focus: Lawyer Development.

Everyone can find related content available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.

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