Master the Legal Memo Format

How to write a legal memo

Legal research memos can come in many forms—from broad 50-state surveys to more nuanced research on a particular point of law—but whatever the format, it’s important that you fully understand the task entrusted to you before you start typing.

If you tackle your assignment by following the recommended approaches in the legal memo example below, you’ll be more likely to find an appreciative supervising attorney, deliver better work product, cut down on the number of drafts required to arrive at a final product, and, most importantly, please the client.

Legal memorandum sample assignment

Assignment: Prepare an open legal memo on whether, under the Fourth Amendment, the use of a drug-sniffing dog in an apartment hallway is considered a search that requires police to first obtain a warrant.


Step 1: Understand the legal issues

Review legal memo assignment materials

In an open legal memo, you will be tasked with researching relevant primary and secondary resources, such as from national, single, or multiple state entities, as well as appeals circuits, to include in your analysis.

Locate secondary sources

Secondary sources, such as books, treatises, law reviews, and legal analysis publications, are a great starting point to assist with your legal memo research. Although secondary sources are not binding on courts, meaning courts are not required to follow these sources, they are still helpful tools to use when you know little about a topic.

However, remember that while you may know little about a topic, the same may not hold true for your audience. Readers like law partners and assigning attorneys will already know general law. Identify your audience’s presumed level of knowledge, then the most mission-critical questions to address. These identified gaps will inform your fact-finding and research.

Use secondary resources to better fill in the main legal topics and issues as they relate to the facts in the legal memo assignment. Your legal research should help frame the issue and lead to other relevant materials, including cases and statutes.

Throughout, utilize legal memo space wisely. Remember, legal memo length varies by subject. Some topics require only a short summary, while others compel long-form treatment. For guidance, search your firm’s office document management system for previous legal memos.

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