10 Tips For How To Write A Killer Sentencing Memorandum

If you’re a lawyer and you’ve been asked to write a sentencing memorandum, take my advice: don’t panic. A good sentencing memorandum is no match for a bad one, but the difference between good and bad can be huge. 

And if you have even the slightest bit of writing experience (and even if you don’t), it pays off big time to put in some serious effort before committing your thoughts to paper or digital space. In this post, I’ll share my best tips for drafting effective sentencing memoranda – tips that will help both newbies and seasoned pros alike!

How to write a memo? Step by step guide – YouTube
1. Understand Your Audience: Tailor your memorandum to the judge, considering their preferences and background.
2. Tell a Compelling Story: Present a clear narrative that engages the reader and humanizes the defendant.
3. Highlight Mitigating Factors: Emphasize circumstances that could lead to a more lenient sentence.
4. Be Concise and Clear: Use straightforward language and avoid unnecessary jargon to ensure your points are understood.
5. Address the Offense Honestly: Acknowledge the wrongdoing while also focusing on factors that mitigate the severity.
6. Support with Evidence: Back your arguments with concrete evidence, such as testimonials, expert opinions, or data.
7. Show Remorse and Rehabilitation: Demonstrate genuine remorse and outline steps the defendant has taken to reform.
8. Propose a Fair Sentence: Suggest a specific and reasonable sentence based on the case’s merits and circumstances.
9. Edit and Proofread: Thoroughly review your memorandum for errors, coherence, and overall effectiveness.
10. Engage with Legal Standards: Ensure your memorandum adheres to legal guidelines and accurately cites relevant laws and precedents.

Don’t Tell The Judge How To Do His Or Her Job

This is the most important point, so it gets its own section.

Don’t tell the judge how to do his or her job. Some prosecutors have a tendency to write sentencing memoranda that sound like this:

“The defendant is asking for leniency because he has demonstrated good character throughout his life and cooperated with law enforcement in their investigation.”

That’s not what you want to say in your sentencing memorandum! Judges don’t need your help deciding whether someone deserves leniency. 

They know what they’re doing. They have years of experience making decisions about criminal cases and sentences, and when you tell them how to rule on something, it makes you look condescending at best and like an idiot at worst. So try not to overdo it with this kind of stuff!

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Don’t Include A Narrative Or Abstract

Don’t include a narrative or abstract. This is a common mistake made by new attorneys and one that can be easily avoided by reviewing your memo before sending it out to the prosecutor. 

If you include either, make sure they are short and placed at the beginning of your memo so that they don’t take up space later on when the reader has already forgotten about them (which will probably happen).

Remember, this is not just advice for sentencing memoranda; it applies equally well to other types of legal documents such as appellate briefs and contracts.

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Consider Sending Your Sentencing Memorandum In Two Parts

Consider sending your sentencing memorandum in two parts. The first part should be a summary of the facts, which is where you’ll want to include some helpful details (like how many hours per week this person worked) that might not fit into a legal argument. The second part should be the legal argument and should be long and detailed.

Here’s what this would look like:

In your first section, summarize all of the relevant facts in as much detail as possible without getting bogged down with minutiae. 

This should include anything relevant but not necessary to understand your main argument, for example, if someone worked 80 hours per week, it could go here rather than in later sections where it would unnecessarily complicate things by distracting readers from more important arguments or detracting from their effectiveness with unnecessary detail.

It Is Not Necessary To Cite Cases (Unless You’re Citing The Facts)

Citations are not necessary when citing the facts. If you are doing so, simply make sure to cite the case in your footnotes. If a question arises about whether or not you need to cite cases in your memorandum, remember that there is no reason to do so unless you are quoting from them directly.

You can use subheadings as a way of breaking up your text and making it easier to read through it. However, make sure they aren’t too long; people tend to take longer when reading long paragraphs than they do with shorter ones (and they tend to skip over them). 

As such, try not using more than 10 words for each subheading and no more than six per page (including the title). Additionally, don’t put more than three paragraphs on any given page; this will help ensure that people have time for these short bursts of information before moving on!

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Be Consistent

Be consistent. Use the same style of formatting throughout your sentencing memorandum—for example, for each section, paragraph, and sentence.

Formatting is important because it shows clarity and conciseness in writing. The purpose of a memorandum is to persuade a judge or jury; therefore it should be written in such a way that helps the writer make their case clearly and concisely without unnecessary information or filler words (such as “and” or “the”).

Don’t Waste Space

No, you didn’t just read that sentence in your mind. I’m sure you knew what it meant, but did you understand how important it is? A good sentencing memorandum must be concise. You don’t have a lot of space to work with, so each word and paragraph should serve a purpose. Remember: less is more!

One way to keep your memorandum concise is to use short sentences instead of long ones whenever possible. If there’s no reason for your sentence to go on for five lines or more (and there usually isn’t), then shorten it up a bit! Your prose will look cleaner and more readable as well as give extra room for bullet points throughout the rest of your memo

Use Subheadings To Break Up Your Text

Subheadings can help you organize and structure your sentences, paragraphs, and arguments in a way that makes them easier for the judge to follow. They also allow you to highlight key points as they appear throughout your memorandum of law which is helpful if you’re using footnotes (more on those later).

Here are a couple of rules for how many subheadings you should use:

Don’t overdo it with too many subheadings, or else the judge might think you’re just trying to distract from what’s important in your writing by adding unnecessary clutter. A good rule of thumb is no more than one main heading per page, with a few additional headings within each section if necessary.

Make sure that each subheading is relevant and has some purpose other than being informative; otherwise, there’s no point in having them at all! If possible, try relating each heading through your argument like so: First main point – Second main point – Third main point – Fourth main point, etc etc.

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Focus On Creating An Outline For Your Sentencing Memorandum, Not On The Cover Page

The cover page is not the most important part of your sentencing memorandum. Don’t spend too much time on it or get wrapped up in its aesthetics of it. 

The cover page should be simple and easy to read. It should include the name of the judge who will hear your case, as well as their title (e.g., Honorable Judge John Doe), along with a reference to where they are sitting (e.g., United States District Court for West Virginia). 

The date should also appear at the top of this page because it can be helpful when comparing two sentencing memorandums together if there are multiple cases before one judge at one time or even if you decide to write another memorandum after receiving feedback from a judge who has already reviewed your first one!

Make Sure Your Argument Builds From The Beginning To The End

In legal writing, you’ll often find yourself making arguments in both directions: for and against an issue. This can be confusing for readers because it’s hard to know when you’ve finished. 

To make sure your argument is clear, concise, and compelling, make sure it builds from the beginning to the end. When crafting each paragraph of your memorandum (whether it is for or against), think about how that paragraph relates to a broader theme that you are trying to establish throughout your memo. 

The more clearly connected each paragraph is with its surrounding paragraphs, the more persuasive and effective it will be!

Get Help From A Pro – It Is Worth It!

It is a good idea to get help from a professional. This is especially true if you are not a lawyer. The sentencing memorandum is often the most important part of a criminal case, and if it isn’t right, then everything else may be for naught.

You will get better results than if you do it yourself. A good result means that your client gets less time in prison or on probation instead of being locked up in jail or prison for years. 

You will also save time and money by hiring an experienced attorney who can write this document for you because they know how to do it well and quickly so that there won’t be any delays in getting your case resolved!

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Whether you’re writing a sentencing memorandum or a motion to dismiss, your words can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case. Sentencing memoranda are often the first time lawyers and judges get to see what you think about the facts, law, and arguments in your case. It is therefore important that they know exactly what type of lawyer you are.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful to enhance your legal writing skills:

How to End a Memo: Best Practices for Effective Conclusions Learn valuable insights on creating impactful conclusions for your legal memos, ensuring your message leaves a lasting impression.

10 Tips from Legal Writing Experts Explore expert advice from legal writing professionals to elevate your writing techniques and convey your legal arguments more effectively.

Quick Tips for Writing a Killer Memo Discover seven quick and actionable tips for crafting compelling legal memos that grab attention and communicate your points clearly.


How do I improve the conclusions of my legal memos?

Enhance the conclusions of your legal memos by summarizing key points, providing a clear recommendation, and addressing potential counterarguments.

What are some strategies for effective legal writing?

Effective legal writing involves using concise language, structuring your content logically, and providing strong supporting evidence for your arguments.

How can I make my legal writing more persuasive?

To make your legal writing more persuasive, use compelling language, anticipate and address opposing arguments, and provide authoritative references.

What should I avoid in legal writing?

Avoid excessive use of jargon, vague statements, and unsupported opinions. Instead, focus on clarity, accuracy, and well-structured arguments.

How do legal writing experts recommend improving writing skills?

Legal writing experts suggest practicing regularly, seeking feedback from peers or mentors, and studying well-crafted legal documents to improve writing skills over time.