Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The memo: audience--primary

The primary audience for your legal memo is the person who assigned it to you, usually a senior attorney at your office. You should assume this person is busy and has many important client matters to work on. You would therefore be wise to produce a legal memo that is efficient and effective--—one that does not waste the senior attorney'’s time. Many parts of this book will be aimed at helping you do that.

You may also assume that the primary audience is knowledgeable about the law generally, but does not necessarily have a detailed knowledge of the area your memo addresses. So you may take general concepts of law for granted, but you should spell out fine points that are specific to the area you are writing about. (Exactly what is generally known and what is a fine point are things you must learn from experience.)

Knowing the primary audience and meeting its needs is crucial. For example, your primary audience may have very specific preferences for the way the memo looks, the way it is written, and the way it approaches the legal problem. It is your job to find out these preferences. One of my former students described that job this way:
    After a while I began to realize that legal writing is not merely a matter of personal style. If you are writing a memo for a person who hates footnotes, you should not use footnotes. This may seem like common sense, but it is a lesson I learned the hard way. After a few of my memos received "constructive criticism" for being nontraditional, I began trying to determine a particular attorney's preferences before I began writing. I found that this could be accomplished in a couple of ways. If the person was somewhat intimidating, the best route was to find--on the firm's serve--—documents he or she had written and see what they looked like. If the person was more approachable or laid-back, I simply asked about his or her preferences. I began to see that while some people didn't care one way or the other, some had very strong opinions things.
Producing a memo that meets the expectations of the primary audience is always your most important responsibility in writing a memo. As Mark Herrmann, a law-firm partner put it in his book, The CurmudgeonÂ’s Guide to Practicing Law:
    When you work with me, you can make yourself valuable or you can make yourself irrelevant. . . . I will read your work and fix your mistakes. This, however, is not my job.*

*Mark Herrmann, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law 3, 27 (ABA 2006).

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