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The Art of Drafting a Proper Legal Memo

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There was a time when the law firm memo was the bedrock of the American legal system. In those days, a private lawyer was contacted and asked to opine on the legal ramifications of a personal or business issue. The lawyer withdrew to a library alcove or office, where almost all of the legal research he/she performed was done in books. At the end of that process, the lawyer gave the client a memo that not only covered the legal ramifications of a particular course of action, but also statutory, regulatory, and case law supporting his or her assertions—including bluebook citations to the law. At its zenith, the law firm memo demonstrated acumen; a substantial, deep knowledge of the law; professional research skills; and—in many cases—excellent writing.

But the days of the law firm memo are by most accounts gone.

"I think [the law firm memo] has really changed," says Bill McDonald, Vice President, Associate General Counsel, and Deputy Secretary for Ceridian Corporation. "I hardly ever ask for a legal memo. I may ask for something short and sweet that I can put in the file, and I assume there's something more exhaustive behind it."

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