How to Write the Perfect Memo - Part 7 - Streamlining the Memo

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Last week, in Part 6 of the WordRake series How to Write the Perfect Memorandum, we explained how to keep clients happy by opening a substantive email with your conclusion and suggested action. In the short installment this week, we show how and why to remove the thick wads of "memo language" that prevent your reader from understanding the situation or knowing what to do about it. 

 

Associates—and partners—fill memoranda with large chunks of “memo language,” which sounds like this: “Keep reading ‘cause I’m fixin’ to say something real important here.” Don’t waste words telling the assigning lawyer or a client: 

 

1. I looked this up in a book and here’s what the book said; or 

2. what follows is my discussion; or

3. will talk about this more fully below. 

 

Organize your memorandum cleanly, and in each section get immediately to the point without all the hesitation. The reason? All of this is already understood, so to add it to the text thickens the memorandum, making it less accessible for a reader. 

 

We have three categories of “memo language”: 

  

Admitting the Research: 

Based upon my review of the termination provisions and Pennsylvania law, Salty’s could not successfully argue it terminated Kingen for cause. 

 

Your reader does not need the opening clause, so start with the simple statement: 

 

Based upon my review of the termination provisions and Pennsylvania law, Salty’s could not successfully argue it terminated Kingen for cause. 

 

Explaining the Organization: 

Set forth below is an overview of the general strategic and legal considerations that will be important in developing the strategy of Allied to respond to a possible proxy contest. 

 

At first, these words that explain your organization might feel necessary, but they add nothing a busy client or partner needs to know. Get straight to the overview. When you delete these words, no one will miss them. 

 

Set forth below is an overview of the general strategic and legal considerations that will be important in developing the strategy of Allied to respond to a possible proxy contest. If Allied finds itself in a proxy contest, it has three options: 

 

Stating the Obvious: 

Whether a breach of this heightened fiduciary duty has occurred turns on the facts and circumstances involved in the situation in question (which facts and circumstances will always be evaluated in hindsight). 

 

We found so many examples of "Stating the Obvious," we had a tough time narrowing the list to just one. The one we chose is a double-duh, and none of it is necessary: 

 

Whether a breach of this heightened fiduciary duty has occurred turns on the facts and circumstances involved in the situation in question 2) (which facts and circumstances will always be evaluated in hindsight). 

 

By removing "memo language," you can sometimes cut your memorandum by a third. 

 

Next week, in the final installment of the WordRake series How to Write the Perfect Memorandum, we offer you an exercise to practice what you've learned in Parts VI and VII. The challenge will be to cut a typical opening of 155 words to fewer than 30. 

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to provide writers a full-time, reliable editor; to save them time and money; and to give them the confidence their writing is as clear and concise as they can make it. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has awarded nine patents to WordRake's unique technology, and Harvard Law School has recognized WordRake as "Disruptive Innovation."