How to Write the Perfect Memorandum - Part 1 - Six Questions Every Associate Should Ask

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How to Write the Perfect Memorandum

In this seven-part series, the WordRake legal team explores the three categories of law office memoranda and how to write each to an assigning lawyer. We also reveal the secrets to introducing and streamlining client memoranda for a client’s quick understanding. From receiving the assignment to editing your final draft for brevity and clarity, you will learn how to create and organize memoranda that impress assigning lawyers and satisfy discerning clients. Gary Kinder, the lawyer who leads the WordRake legal team, has taught more than 1,000 writing programs to associates at the country’s most prestigious law firms: WilmerHale, Jones Day, Drinker, Latham, Perkins, Dorsey, Skadden, Sidley.

Part I: Accepting a Writing Assignment

Six Questions Every Associate Should Ask 

The legal memorandum is the heart of a law firm practice and the focus of the relationship between the assigning lawyer and the associate. Writing a good memorandum begins with knowing how to receive the assignment. Ideally, the assigning lawyer will clarify your assignment and answer your questions before you ask them. But assigning lawyers are busy, intellectually consumed with myriad problems, and often can’t put themselves in the mindset of an associate encountering the situation for the first time. So you should accept the responsibility for understanding what the assigning lawyer wants. Ask questions, and don’t leave the room confused. The better the communication between you and the assigning lawyer, the better your final product.

Depending on your needs and how you like to work, you want answers to some or all of the following questions:

  • The obvious: When is the assignment due? 
  • About how long do you think the assignment should take? 
  • When I finish my research, if I have further questions, may I come back?
  • Do you want me to check in after a set number of hours anyway?
  • Here is the format I intend to use; is that okay with you?
  • When I finish, will you take five minutes to critique my work?

The greatest potential for confusion usually arises when you have too few facts to understand the situation, so listen carefully to the story the assigning lawyer tells. If you sense a gap in your understanding, or if you need more specific information to narrow your effort, ask for more facts. Do not be shy.

Next week, we will distinguish the three categories of memoranda you will be assigned to write.

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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."