Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is the up-front conclusion always best?

At a recent seminar, I was preaching, as usual, about beginning legal documents with some kind of up-front conclusion. I mentioned legal advice and legal opinions in particular. Don't start with background, I said, and then build up to the conclusion--the answer. State the question and conclusion first, then give the background and reasons.

An experienced lawyer asked if there was an exception to this for formally issued, government legal opinions.

For example, suppose an administrative agency raises a legal question and submits it to its legal staff. Or suppose an ordinary citizen seeks an opinion from a government agency and the legal staff prepares a written response. I would advise the opinion writer to begin by stating the question and the answer up front.

The questioner had been advised not to put the answer up front but to save it for the end. She was told that if the answer was stated at the beginning, the document did not seem objective. With the answer up front, it seemed that the writer had not really considered the question carefully and objectively, but had come to a quick, even predetermined, decision. For that reason, she had been told not to begin opinions with the answer, but to save it for the end, so that the opinion seem to fully treat the issue before coming to a conclusion.

I disagreed. What do you think?

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