Law: Legal memo

What is a legal memo?

A legal memo is a document used in legal practice to identify and advise on the legal issues in a client’s case. It is also a common type of assessment in a law degree. A memo is often written in the form of a structured letter, with headings that clearly identify the legal issues. The letter may be addressed to a client or to a colleague in a law firm (an ‘in house’ memo). Check your assessment instructions for the specific requirements of your legal memo.

Another type of memo is a legal policy memo (or policy paper), which may be addressed to a stakeholder responsible for, or with an interest in, policy change i.e. a submission to a law reform commission.

Law Study Hacks: Legal Memos and Problem Questions

Memorandum of advice

Audience

A memo may be addressed to a colleague or supervisor in a law firm (known as an ‘in-house’ memo). Occasionally you may be asked to write a 'letter to the client' or the memorandum may be for the client as well as for a legal colleague. Read your assignment instructions carefully to determine the audience for the memo.

  • You need to focus on the audience as well as the task. For a legal colleague, the tone will be impersonal and objective, the writing concise and precise, using the accepted citing style for any references to legislation or other sources.
  • A 'letter to a client' would be written in a more informative, non-legal style, emphasising the possible actions and likely outcomes of the client’s case, usually with recommendations.

Content and structure

Planning your content and structure before you start writing will result in a more logical and cohesive memorandum. View the tips below for commercial memoranda and memorandum looking at policy issues.

Most commercial memoranda will be looking at the issues arising from the client’s questions or from a scenario you are asked to advise on. You should use headings for clarity, and can also use numbered paragraphs for ease of reference.

  • You may begin the memorandum with an executive summary, which gives an overview of your conclusions on the issues. Or, you may begin the memorandum with an outline of the issues to be discussed.
  • You then need to analyse these issues in depth, ideally under separate headings. Research the current law (case law and/or legislation), how this has been interpreted by the courts, and then apply this law to the facts of your scenario. It is helpful to use the IRAC or MIRAT structure for each issue in the client’s situation. Your headings should reflect the issues, and may be phrased as questions. It is helpful to see the memo as a type of ‘problem question’, with a slightly different presentation in that it needs to be in the form of a memorandum.

For a memorandum looking at policy issues, e.g. a submission to a law reform commission or politician, start by summarising the issues and their significance.

  • State your position at the start and outline what the memorandum will demonstrate and argue. Usually you will be researching policy matters, perhaps arising from a judgement, perhaps addressing a community concern. The analysis may focus on the intended purpose of the suggested reform, amendment or submission.
  • You would usually be looking at how the intended legislative change would interact with existing legislation e.g. between the Commonwealth and the States, or with existing provisions within an Act. Use headings and subheadings to clearly demonstrate the different points of your submission.
  • Any recommendations would arise logically from your discussion and form the conclusion of your discussion. Address counterarguments and write in a professional yet persuasive tone.

See our Policy Papers resource for more information.

Memo structure

Suggestions for an in-house research memorandum (Note: there is no one 'right' style. Check your assignment instructions carefully.)

For further tips see our 'Law Study Hacks' video above.

Further resources

Take a look at this interactive tutorial from University of Ottawa, Legal Memos Made Easy. You can choose to take on an example file - you will be briefed on the client's story, receive the assigning lawyer's instructions, and get memo writing advice.

Find books on legal writing at call number F15 in the Law library on Level 3, or search for "legal writing" via Search. See, for example: