A Guide To Writing Legal Memos People Want to Read

When I was in law school, I had a professor that would make us write memos to him. We would do this over our 3L year and they were supposed to be used as practice for when we started internships.

Each student had their special assignment based on what their career goals were, but mine involved writing memos about corporate governance issues (like board member conflicts). This experience taught me some valuable lessons about how to write legal memos which is something you’ll need if you want to have a successful career in the law.

So let’s break down what makes a good legal memo:

  • Understand why it’s important for lawyers to communicate clearly and concisely
  • Ask yourself if every bit of information is necessary (and don’t forget about font size!)
  • Keep your paragraphs short – no more than 4 sentences per paragraph!

4a) Break up long blocks of text into smaller chunks with headers or bolded headers; use bullet points whenever possible!

Researching Your First Legal Memo – YouTube
Key Takeaways
1. Understand the Audience: Tailor your legal memos to the readers’ level of expertise and interests.
2. Engaging Introductions: Craft introductions that capture attention and provide a concise overview of the memo’s purpose.
3. Clarity and Conciseness: Present your analysis in a clear and concise manner, avoiding unnecessary jargon or complexity.
4. Logical Structure: Organize your memo with a logical flow, using headings and subheadings to guide the reader.
5. Persuasive Arguments: Support your recommendations with well-reasoned arguments and relevant legal precedents.
6. Effective Formatting: Use consistent formatting for headings, bullet points, and numbered lists for easy readability.
7. Proofreading and Editing: Review your memo for errors and inconsistencies before finalizing it for submission.
8. Review and Feedback: Seek feedback from peers or mentors to refine your writing and enhance the memo’s quality.
9. Incorporating Visuals: Use visuals such as charts or tables to clarify complex information and enhance understanding.
10. Concluding Impact: End with a strong conclusion that summarizes key points and reinforces your recommendations.

1. Don’t State The Obvious

When drafting a memo, it’s important to remember that you are writing for readers who are busy and have limited time. Therefore, it is critical not to waste their time. Don’t write something that they can figure out for themselves or repeat what they already know. 

The reader also doesn’t need you to tell them something obvious or common sense because they already know this information. 

For example: if you were writing a memo about the importance of standing up straight while working at your desk, then saying in the memo “it’s important to stand up straight” would be unnecessary and boring because everyone knows that standing up straight is good for your health. 

Instead, say things like “7 reasons why standing up straight will improve productivity” or “5 tips for better posture.” This way you’ll avoid being repetitive and boring without wasting their time on things they already know.

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2. Use A Strong Beginning

Just like the first sentence of a persuasive essay, your memo’s beginning is critical. If you can’t captivate your audience with a strong beginning, then it’s unlikely that they’ll be motivated to continue reading. As with all writing, it’s important to hook the reader from the start and there are several ways you can accomplish this:

Begin with an interesting quote or story. Stories are powerful because they tend to fascinate us more than other types of content; we’re hardwired as humans to gravitate toward them.

Start by asking questions that get people thinking about what they’ve just read/heard/seen/experienced. This will make them curious about what comes next in your memo or presentation; if done right, this curiosity will compel them further into its contents without being too obvious or pushy about it!

3. Don’t Repeat The Facts You’ve Presented

As we discussed in Section 2, it’s important to be sure that your reader understands the relevant facts of your case before you present your analysis. If they don’t understand how a particular fact relates to another fact or what happened next, they will not be able to follow along with your reasoning process.

However, once you have laid out a series of related events or actions and explained their significance for your argument, do not repeat them (unless there is something new about these events). 

You can occasionally refer back to earlier points without repeating them verbatim if it helps clarify an idea or reinforce an argument point for example if you have made several points about how certain types of evidence relate to one another and then make another point about how this type of evidence relates to some other kind of evidence later on in the memo.

Just as both types of evidence show, so does But if all three sentences begin with “Just as,” it becomes repetitive and annoying for readers who are following along closely with your line-by-line presentation.

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4. Tell A Story, And Make It Interesting

The best way to keep your readers interested is to tell a story. A story not only illustrates your point but also makes it memorable. Stories can engage the reader, making them more memorable than just listing the points of an argument.

Telling a good story is hard work; most lawyers don’t do it well. But if you’re going to tell one anyway and I think that you should! you might as well do it right. So let’s talk about some tips for writing legal memos that people want to read:

  • Keep Your Language Simple and Clear
  • Use Short Sentences and Simple Words

5. Make Readers Feel Something

Here’s another fact about writing legal memos: people don’t want to read them. They want to be entertained, enlightened and informed, but they don’t want to read. As a result, you must work hard to make your readers feel something as they read your memo.

The most effective way you can achieve this goal is through the use of emotion-based stories that illustrate your points by using examples and catchy phrases or metaphors that will stay with readers long after they finish reading your work product.

6. Be Concise And Brief

Keep your memo concise and brief. As a general rule, the shorter your legal memos are, the more likely people will read them. 

Also, you should use short sentences and paragraphs (one to two sentences per paragraph) to make sure that even if someone only skims through your writing, they will still be able to understand it. This is especially true when writing in plain English: long words and convoluted phrases can easily confuse readers who don’t have a background in legal terminology.

You should also try to avoid using jargon or other specialized terms outside of their specific contexts; this helps ensure that everyone reading your memo understands what you’re talking about without having to look up definitions for each word individually every time they come across one they don’t know!

Building on the fundamentals of legal memo writing, dive deeper into refining your skills. Explore the second part of our guide on writing a comprehensive legal memorandum to enhance your drafting prowess.

7. Don’t Use Jargon Or Vague Statements

If you can’t replace a word or sentence with something more precise, it might be time to revise. Consider whether the idea behind your paragraph could be expressed in clearer language that doesn’t rely on industry-specific terms; if so, try rewriting. If not, consider cutting the paragraph altogether.

Avoid Buzzwords And Common Cliches

Buzzwords are phrases that have become so overused within a particular industry that they’ve lost their meaning and may even make you sound like an amateur if used unthinkingly. 

Common cliches are similarly problematic because they’re often used when writers don’t know what else to say (or can’t think of anything better). 

Even though these words/phrases might seem harmless when they’re first introduced into conversation or writing, they can quickly become tiresome after several uses which is why it’s best to avoid them in the first place!

8. Don’t Add Words Or Ideas Not Requested By The Memo’s Purpose

The first step to writing a memo people want to read is being sure you understand the purpose of the memo. This sounds obvious, but many legal memos suffer from a lack of clarity as to what they’re trying to accomplish. 

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t concisely summarize your memo in one sentence, chances are you don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing. 

Your assignment might be: “write a memo that analyzes whether the client should send its employees on an educational trip.” Or maybe something more specific: “draft an offer letter for Joe Jones in light of our recent engagement.”

You also need to know who’s going to read your legal memo and how much time they have available for reading it (and digesting it). 

If an associate attorney asks for advice about his current caseload, he likely doesn’t want anything as long as a 20-page analysis; he just wants some guidance about which cases are most important right now so he can prioritize them appropriately. 

On the other hand, if one partner at your firm sends out a request for proposals from law firms interested in representing them in their merger with another company, she’ll appreciate receiving detailed responses from several different firms rather than just one or two brief responses with no substance behind them

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9. Use Subheads To Clarify And Emphasize Points

Subheads are a great way to break up the text and emphasize critical points. When you’re writing your memo, think about how you can use subheads to separate information into different categories for example, by topic or by question.

You’ll want each subhead to be short and to the point so that it succinctly summarizes the content below it. Remember: You don’t want your reader to get lost or confused as they read through your memo! 

They shouldn’t need more than two sentences per paragraph at most, so make sure all of your paragraphs are concise and easy to read (you can always add more details if needed).

It also helps if you include some kind of call-to-action in each subhead something like “Read on for more information about X!” or “There are many reasons why Y might be important read on to find out!” 

This will encourage readers who might not otherwise have been interested in reading further down into your document instead of skimming right over it and moving on to something else entirely

10. Know Your Reader

You should also consider your reader when writing a memo. Your audience can vary depending on the purpose of the document and the context in which it will be used. For example, if you’re writing a brief for an oral argument before a judge, your reader is likely to be very familiar with case law and legal precedent it’s quite possible that he or she is an attorney. 

On the other hand, if your goal is to explain why your client should receive a certain amount of damages because his injuries were caused by another party’s negligence, then you might assume that your reader has less knowledge about these issues than someone who works within the legal field full time.

In addition to thinking about what information they need from this memo (and how much), understanding their background will help ensure that they understand all of its implications. For example:

If they have experience working in government agencies but not private practice firms (or vice versa), then they may not know what information would be relevant for each type of work environment.

If they’ve never worked outside America before now (or vice versa), then there might be aspects of US law/culture that don’t make as much sense to them as others do. 

If one person has been with their company for over 20 years while another just started last month then those two employees are going to view any given situation differently based on their previous experiences within their respective organizations

11. Remember That Lawyers Are Supposed To Be Persuasive Writers

Remember that lawyers are supposed to be persuasive writers.

That’s part of the job. We have to persuade others, even if it’s just our client or an opposing party in court. If we can’t persuade them, then our arguments are invalid.

In short: you should write like you’re trying to convince someone else, not yourself. You need to think about what information they want or need for your memo (or brief) to be meaningful and effective, and then tailor your writing style accordingly so that they’ll follow along with your argument without getting lost along the way.

12. Use The Active Voice, Not The Passive Voice

  • Use the active voice, not the passive voice

The active voice is more direct and powerful than the passive one; for example, “I killed the king” sounds more forceful than “The king was killed by me.

Indeed, using a passive construction can sometimes be necessary for clarity if you want to emphasize something else in your sentence for instance if you want readers to know who did something rather than focusing on what happened (e.g., “John wrote an amazing memo this morning!”). 

However, when possible, it’s usually better to use an active construction because it will make your writing stronger overall:

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13. Write clearly

Write clearly. The best way to do this is by using simple grammar, short sentences and words, and simple language. Avoid jargon, ambiguity, wordiness, and repetition; you’ll have a much better chance of writing something people will want to read if you avoid these things too.

It’s also important that your writing doesn’t sound like someone else’s work your memos should be as unique as possible! 

Use passive voice instead of active voice whenever possible: “The memo was written by me” (active) vs “The memo was written” (passive). 

Long sentences are usually harder than short ones: choose the latter where appropriate (except when using long words in legal documents). And don’t forget about those long words either! 

You don’t want them cluttering up your legal document unnecessarily; make sure they’re used appropriately so that others know what they mean without having to look them up online somewhere else first just because they aren’t familiar with how lawyers talk all day long every day about only one thing.

14. Keep Sentences Short And Simple

Keep sentences short and simple. Don’t use big words or complicated grammar. Use active verbs instead of passive verbs, and make sure your sentences are easy to read. If you have a lot of long sentences in your memo, it will make the reader’s job harder and they might not finish reading it all the way through – which means they’ll probably miss important details!

Be concise: Make sure every sentence has a point that is relevant to the discussion at hand. If you find yourself rambling on about something that isn’t relevant, cut it out! You should also be aware of how much space each paragraph takes up if paragraphs are too long, readers may lose interest before they even reach the end of one.


We hope this guide has helped you learn more about the art of writing legal memos. If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that being a good writer isn’t just about meeting word count requirements or following format guidelines it’s about communicating with your audience in a way that is both effective and enjoyable to read! 

Legal writing can be tricky at times, but we hope these tips will help you craft better memos in no time.

Further Reading

Explore these additional resources to enhance your understanding of legal memo writing:

Master the Legal Memo Format Short Description: Access expert insights into mastering the proper legal memo format, ensuring your memos are clear, concise, and effective.

Legal Memos and Writing Tips Short Description: Discover a collection of valuable tips and techniques for crafting well-structured legal memos and improving your legal writing skills.

Writing a Legal Memo: A Comprehensive Guide Short Description: Delve into a comprehensive guide that covers the intricacies of writing a legal memo, offering step-by-step guidance and best practices.


What is the importance of a well-structured legal memo?

A well-structured legal memo serves as a clear and organized communication tool, conveying legal analysis and recommendations effectively.

How can I enhance the persuasiveness of my legal memo?

To enhance persuasiveness, focus on presenting compelling arguments supported by relevant legal precedents and thorough analysis.

Are there specific formatting guidelines for legal memos?

Yes, legal memos often follow a standardized format, including sections such as heading, introduction, issue statement, analysis, conclusion, and recommendations.

How can I make complex legal concepts more understandable in my memos?

Break down complex legal concepts into simpler terms, provide clear explanations, and use illustrative examples to enhance comprehension.

Is it essential to adhere to a formal tone in legal memos?

Maintaining a professional and formal tone in legal memos is crucial as it reflects the seriousness of the subject matter and maintains credibility.