Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The memo: uses; tone and style

Uses for the memo
Another thing to keep in mind is that your memo may be put to a variety of uses once it's done. We've already discussed the idea that others at the office might read it or that it might go to the client. The memo might also be used as a building block for a court document such as a motion or brief. It might be the basis for a letter to opposing counsel or to a client. Or it might be make part of a report to a government agency. Because of these potential uses, you should take care that everything you put in your memo is accurate, clear, and thorough. Others will be relying on it.

Tone and style
All the information in this chapter so far should make it clear that the memo is a serious work product in a law office. As informal and easy as it may sound when someone asks you to "just get me a draft memo," or "just get me something in writing," you should take all memo projects seriously.

Even if someone says to turn in a "draft," that does not mean "rough draft," according to D. Robert White in The Official Lawyer's Handbook. Always assume the senior attorney wants a polished product.* No matter how informal you feel the assignment is, you should write in a professional and moderately formal way.

I say "moderately formal" because you do not need to adopt an artificially legalistic tone. But you do need to be sure you avoid anything the senior attorney might consider too informal, slang-y, or flippant. This is not a book about correct legal style; for that, I recommend The Redbook by Bryan Garner. But I can offer a few safe generalizations here. In a legal memo you should generally
  • avoid the first person
  • avoid contractions
  • avoid trendy slang or nonlegal jargon
  • use scrupulously correct grammar, punctuation, and word usage
If you have weaknesses in grammar, punctuation, and word usage, I recommend Woe Is I by Patricia O'Conner.**

*Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (2d ed., Thomson West 2006).

**Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead Books 1996).

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