Your first graded assignment in law school will be drafting an Office Memorandum. Mine was horrible, and I’ve been drawing paychecks as a writer for nine years.
An “Office Memo” is a lengthy analysis of a specific legal question and its most probable answer. You are given a bundle of facts and an overarching question. It’s your job to identify the legally significant information, find the applicable legal rules and explain to your reader how those rules apply to your facts.
Below are three tips, and memorable advice from my legal writing professor, to help you avoid making the same mistakes that I made.
Tip 1. Talk to your Law Practice professor.
Make a skeleton outline of your memo and have a casual chat with your professor. If you are lucky, your Law Practice professor will even keep a bowl of candy for her visitors.
* Pro tip 1 from Prof. E. Joan Blum, Associate Professor of the Practice: There is no clear cut answer to many legal questions. The fact pattern of your case will be different from cases that come up in your research. Thus, there are only similarities and differences from which you must draw inferences to predict a likely outcome.
Tip 2. Talk to your professor again.
Now that you’ve tweaked your outline and added some substance based on your case research, confirm that you’re drawing the right inferences with your professor.
* Pro tip 2 from Prof. Blum: A phrase that is used as part of a court ruling should be treated like a Lego block. Don’t be too creative. Close that thesaurus. Repetition can show the strength of your analysis because it confirms that the legal rules recited are applicable to the facts relevant to your case.
Tip 3. No really, you still don’t know what you’re doing. Go talk to your professor.
Your law practice professor has read hundreds, if not thousands, of memos. She can not only distinguish a good argument from a bad one, but can help make a good analysis cleaner and more efficient (i.e. shorter).
(Side note: Your professor may also have a life outside of the dry confines of law school, e.g. assisting Uzbekistan’s legal reform or running an annual summer program introducing the US legal system to practicing attorneys, educators and students from all over the world. But I digress)
* Pro tip 3 (feat. J.B.): Be mindful of your audience. It can be an attorney trying to gauge the strength of her client’s case or a judge who you need to persuade. Likewise, the complexity and scope of your legal analysis should always reflect the intended reader’s level of familiarity with the subject matter.
Did you catch the part about knowing your audience? This is applicable to all law school exams, but especially for long-form writing (Law Practice and perhaps Property Law if you get Prof. Daniel Lyons).
In closing, you’re going to do great. You will arrive in Boston at the tail end of summer and start checking in with your professors early on. In the meantime, enjoy life – whether it be kayaking, backpacking, surfing or just hanging out at the beach.
See you in August!