a. Standard Information
What could be simpler than:
And yet the memo heading is a source of unnecessary and costly mistakes. Perhaps the biggest cost is to your reputation, since it is the first item the assigning lawyer sees, and the administrative staff will not think too highly of any sloppiness in the heading. Read on.
The standard heading contains crucial information for the current and future reader, as well as data for the proper filing and archiving of your work:
- In a busy law practice, you must be able to retrieve documents quickly.
- You will also want to maintain a good database of all your work so that you can refer back to previous research or opinions.
- It is also necessary for proper billing.
Each memo must have sufficient identifying information, and instructions may vary from firm to firm (you will always follow the firm's file protocols).
The heading should include:
The name of the lawyer for whom you are writing the memo, spelled correctly, and any relevant position title.
Your name and position.
The client's name and file number.
Use the case or file name and describe the content in sufficient detail to allow a busy lawyer to know at first glance what this memo is about. There may be many documents on the same file. A common error is to use only the case or client name without further description.
The subject line is the item that requires some thought to ensure it gives enough detail. Note that the information about your client should come first. There are some conventions that legal writers use. For example, the letters “ats” is a convention that means “at the suit of” and you use this in the subject line where your client is the defendant.
Compare the three examples below:
A good subject line:
Subject: “Quality Catering ats Arshan: Response to Arshan’s motion to extend time to serve Statement of Claim”
Two student memos without enough information:
Subject: Re: Arshan v Quality Catering
Subject: Re: negligence action
Always date your memo. This is crucial information for many reasons:
- The date confirms that the memo is based on the law as of that date. If the law changes, the memo's date ensures your work will not be used inappropriately.
- You will also want it placed in proper chronological order in the firm's research memo data bank.
Good formatting also contributes to the memo's clarity and readability. You should also include page numbers – a surprising number of memo writers do not think about numbering pages. A reader will rely on page numbers later on in discussions or in further work.
c. First Impressions
First impressions are important. Mistakes with format and standard memo information will give your reader – an instructing lawyer in most cases – an immediate first impression of your work and your attention to detail. Don't start off on the wrong foot on something very simple to do properly.