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What is a Legal Memo?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A legal memo or a legal memorandum is a specific type of essay dealing with a legal issue. It is usually written and researched by a paralegal, a law student, or lawyer. It contains these basic elements: statement of facts, issues, conclusions, discussions of the law pertaining to facts, citations of previous applicable cases, and recommendations based on this discussion.

The order of the information contained in a legal memo can differ. Usually one begins with a statement of facts. This section is usually a brief but succinct paragraph that states the relevant facts at hand. A statement of legal issues that underlie the facts tends to follow the statement of facts.

At this point, a conclusion may be offered which will direct the discussion of previous cases dealing with the stated issues in the memo. Alternately, the conclusion may come at the end of the document. The format depends upon the law firm for which one is practicing or working, or the way in which a law school dictates format if one is writing a sample memo.

A conclusion can then be followed by a discussion of all relevant examples of law, or rulings that prove a conclusion and suggest logical recommendations. This section involves a great deal of research to show that the lawyer is justified in taking whatever position she does. Everything must be cited according to the preferences of the firm or school.

Based on discussion and citation, the legal memo may conclude with recommendations on how to proceed, and how best to help a client with a legal issue. Generally, this document is just a part of the legal process.

A longer version of the legal memo, which may be presented to a judge when numerous decisions must be made, is a legal brief, citing all relevant sources that “prove” an attorney’s stance on the law. These briefs support arguments for certain kinds of rights and rulings accorded to a client.

To the layperson, this type of document is just one way in which lawyers gather research to effectively argue or settle a case. It is similar to a research paper, but tends to be organized into very clear sections, and is law specific.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon954495 — On Jun 02, 2014

I need to write a memo concerning the difference between the terms "legal interest" and "equitable interest" in real estate transactions. There is not much case law highlighting the differences in these terms, more so secondary sources so what will be my outline in writing this memo?

By anon11450 — On Apr 16, 2008

What is the cariboo gold rush?

By malena — On Jan 20, 2008

The usual, primary difference between a legal brief and a legal memo is the voice it's written in. A legal brief is persuasive. It argues a point of view and attempts to persuade the reader (e.g., a judge or attorney) to support that point of view. A legal memo, on the other hand, is generally objective, neutrally presenting both sides with supporting evidence (i.e., case law usually) for both sides. The memo is meant to inform the reader so that he or she may come to his or her own conclusion.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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