Legal reports (typically referred to as legal memoranda or memos) are designed to outline and explain the legal and factual issues in a case. Usually, a legal memo is written by a younger associate attorney to the lead attorney on the case, or they're written by law students to their professors for law school classes. Legal memoranda can be written in purely objective style to explain legal issues and likely outcomes in a neutral format. They can also be framed as persuasion, designed to present the “best possible case” from a specific party’s perspective.
Before writing a legal report or memorandum, familiarize yourself with the proper format and organizational rules to help your reader understand your arguments and reasoning. A legal memo should outline the issues in the case, the facts of the case, the rule of law applicable to the case, an analysis of the law as applied to the facts and a conclusion.
Formatting the Memorandum
Use a traditional font, such as Arial or Times New Roman in a 12-point size. Adjust the margins to give a uniform one inch on all sides, unless your instructions state otherwise; some offices prefer a larger margin on the left side of the page. Set justification to “left” so that spacing is not distorted.
Some find it helpful to start by filling out the expected section captions as a sort of bare-bones outline before beginning the work of writing the draft. Your firm or law school may use different names for these sections, but essentially, you'll need:
- Heading (or case caption)
- Question Presented, or Issues
- Brief Answer to the Question Presented (or brief recitation of your conclusion)
- Statement of Facts
- Discussion or Analysis
Keep in mind the audience for your memorandum or report. Typically, this type of report is written for an attorney (or a law school class professor) who may have extensive knowledge of the law in the relevant area, but may not be as familiar with the facts of the specific case. The outline and customary sections are designed to help the reader focus on the most important information without being distracted by extraneous details.
As for line-spacing, often the Question Presented and Brief Answer sections are single spaced, while the remainder of the memo is double-spaced.
“Question Presented” Section
The first section in your memo provides a detailed, fact-supported statement outlining the specific question or issue to be analyzed.
When determining the legal issue, always research the law on the subject matter first, then reach your conclusion. The legal issue must always reflect the applicable law on the subject.
For example, if your facts concern a lawsuit Andrew is filing against Beth for possession of real estate, potential legal issues will include whether and to what extent title to the property was transferred from one individual to another, whether the deed was properly filed, whether the required purchase price was paid and whether another person has a superior claim to the property.
Your Question Presented section should state the legal issues by identifying the applicable law and major issues in question format.
“Brief Answer” Section
After identifying the legal issue, in the “Brief Answer” you will state your conclusion to the issues outlined in the prior section. What does the law say about these issues? How should they be resolved? Frame your response in short, declarative sentences.
Using our prior example, a “Brief Answer” section could read:
“Under the facts of this case, Andrew’s suit should not succeed because the transfer of the real property was memorialized in writing, supported by the exchange of consideration, and filed with the appropriate office.”
“Statement of Facts” Section
After providing your brief answer, the next section outlines the facts that are relevant to the case.
The statement of facts tells the reader why the present action is before the court. If you are writing a persuasive memo, tell the story from your client's perspective. If, however, you are presenting this to an attorney who wants an objective opinion on a case, keep the facts straightforward.
Beginning legal writers often err here by including only the facts that support their conclusion. This is a mistake. Your facts statement should include all relevant facts, including those that weigh against your client or favored position. This is especially true if you’re writing an objective memorandum.
However, you can safely omit any fact that is irrelevant to the decision or legal issues at stake.
Body or Discussion Section
The discussion section of your memo is the meat of the memorandum. Its purpose is to explain the law, and apply the law to the facts of your case.
Organize this part of your memo by the legal issue or topic under consideration. Use subheadings if your “Question Presented” section stated more than one issue. Always start each legal issue by stating the rule of law that you will be applying. Follow by applying the legal rule to the facts of your case.
The Conclusion Section
The conclusion of your memo should be relatively short and simply state the predicted outcome of the case. In U.S. law, legal outcomes are governed by the principle of “stare decisis,” or legal precedent. In other words, prior cases govern subsequent, similar ones.
After you have researched your issues and analyzed the facts accordingly, you should be able to determine with some confidence which parties will win and why in the conclusion. Avoid introducing new arguments in the conclusion. Rather, simply restate the likely outcome, being sure to include the appropriate relief that the court will likely grant to the winning party.
For example, in our ongoing hypothetical, your conclusion should be “Beth will win this litigation and be granted exclusive title to the property in question.”