Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The memo: objective analysis

Predictive, objective analysis
The traditional memo is usually objective. That is, it does not advocate a position. Rather, it explains the law in a neutral way and applies that law to a problem to predict the likely result for the problem. Thus, the legal memo contrasts with the legal brief (not to be confused with the case brief):
    The brief takes a position and then marshals authority and arguments for that position in order to persuade a decision-maker.

    The memo answers a question and then explains and applies authority in order to inform a decision-maker.
But some memos are different. Some are just research reports that do nothing more than give information about what the law is or what the law requires. I wrote many of these in my career. Here are the kinds of questions you might see in a research-report memo:
  • What are the elements of an age-discrimination cause of action?
  • Does Ohio law allow a self-proving affidavit for the witnesses to a will?
  • What are the current regulations covering maximum interest rates in Texas?
Even the traditional memo, which raises a scenario and gives an analysis, comes in many varieties. You may be ask to--
  • give just an answer to the question and forgo the written analysis
  • give just the analysis and forgo the other parts of a traditional memo
  • discuss the possible arguments for or against a certain position
It's your job to ask enough questions to be clear on exactly the type of memo you are to prepare--and whether you are to put it in writing.

Just a note: when I was told, as I often was, to "just give me an answer" or "just give me the analysis," I found that I did a much better job if I actually produced something close to a traditional memo for myself. You'll find that the process of writing up the entire memo is an excellent way to deepen your understanding of the material and find gaps in your reasoning. Besides, that memo can always go into the file or the database for later use by you or someone else. And about half the time I was later asked to "put what you told me in writing." So I had a head start on that.

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