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Dorothy Secol, CLABy: Dorothy Secol, CLA (Guest Blogger)

Happy “Double Monday,” TPS readers! You know – that’s when you take a completely “regular” Monday (always hard enough, as is), then put it behind a really long, wonderful, extended, holiday weekend full of turkey, pumpkin pie, fun, family, and free time! Yep. It’s definitely double Monday today, folks! The way we see it, there’s no better time to buckle down, and learn the nuts and bolts of something complex, like how to draft a tricky legal memorandum! We know you’re up for the challenge – just think double Monday, double the caffeine, and some helpful, legal memo drafting advice to get your legal brain kicked into high gear! That’s the spirit.

Here’s Dorothy…

Reprinted with permission from Dorothy Secol, CLA: www.dorothysecolcla.com.

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The first thing to remember when writing a legal document, including a memorandum of law is that clarity is what you aim for. You must be clear about what you want to say, and how you want the reader to understand what you are saying. Be precise about what you are writing. You cannot persuade a court to adopt your point of view if it is vague or ambiguous.

Next, write clearly using as little legalese as possible. Write as if you are conversing with the reader. Write to be understood; don’t show off with long legal phrases or words for which the reader needs a legal dictionary. Use shorter words instead of longer words, and shorter sentences. Use strong nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs. An example of this is “The rule applies here” instead of “The rule is applicable here”. Cut unnecessary words such as “As demonstrated” and do not use phrases such as “we respectfully request that…”. Do not use “We believe”.

Keep your paragraphs short, limited to four or five sentences if possible. Use headings and subheadings to keep your reader’s thoughts organized while he/she is reading your memorandum. Try to avoid footnotes and personality attacks.

The first paragraph of your memorandum should be as attention-getting as any other lead-in piece of writing. Draw your reader in. Make it interesting. Be creative and promote your argument. Show that you have style. In your preliminary statement or immediately after it, summarize, in a few paragraphs or lines, why your reader should grant the relief sought.

Your statement of disputed facts should be a succinct and clear paragraph in which each disputed fact, or fact as the case may be, is stated simply. Next, start your arguments. Again, give each point you wish to argue, a heading or subheading. Be thorough in your headings. An example would be “The Court Should Grant Summary Judgment Because There is No Valid Lien to Avoid.” Finally, give a conclusion as to why your reader should grant the relief sought.

If this is an interoffice memorandum, the format is the same, except that you are not asking for relief, but giving law and argument regarding the issues or questions that you have been assigned. An internal memorandum is a discussion of the case.

Always think carefully about the persuasive force of the precedent, and discuss the holding of that case in your memorandum. Tell the reader the holding of any case you cite, first. Then discuss how your case relates to the precedent.

Use the parties’ names in your memorandum, not their status. Say “Mr. Smith” instead of “the defendant”. Shorten names, such as “National Tree Huggers Association” to “National Tree Huggers”, but do not use letters as a short form, such as NTHA.

Try not to use block quotations too much. Most readers skip over these. If you must use a block quotation, summarize the substance in it in the sentence immediately preceding it. You will lose your reader using block quotations if you precede them with “In Smith vs. Jones the court held…”. Tease your reader by using a full summary such as “In Smith vs. Jones the court held that our client’s argument is valid and the Jones argument fails.

Finally, be sure to proof read your memorandum. There should be no misspellings, typographical errors or grammatical errors. When there are errors your point can be lost as they are a distraction to the reader.

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Dorothy Secol, CLA has worked in the legal profession for over 35 years and has been a freelance paralegal since 1982.  She maintains an office in Allenhurst, New Jersey, doing business as Dorothy Secol, CLA.    Dorothy is a graduate of Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey.

Ms. Secol is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and received her CLA status in 1978.  In addition, she is a former trustee of the Central Jersey Paralegal Association and a former Vice-President and trustee of Legal Assistants Association of New Jersey. She is also an associate member of the New Jersey State Bar Association and a former Co-Chair of that Committee.  She is also a member of the Real Property and Probate Section and the Foreclosure Committee.  Ms. Secol serves on the Paralegal Advisory Boards of Brookdale Community College and Ocean County College and is a mediator for the Ocean Township, Allenhurst and Deal Municipal Courts appointed by the New Jersey Superior Court.

Ms. Secol is the author of Starting and Managing Your Own Business: A Freelancing Guide for Paralegals, published by Aspen Publishing Co.  and has written articles for the ANew Jersey Law Journal,@ and ANew Jersey Lawyer.@  In addition, Ms. Secol was a petitioner in the case of In re Opinion 24 of the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, 128 N.J. 114 (1992).  The case validated the fact that Athere is no distinguishable difference between an in-house and freelance paralegal working under the direct supervision of an attorney.

Ms. Secol has presented seminars on real estate procedure, probate procedure and law office management as well as how to set up a business as a freelance paralegal. For contact information, see www.dorothysecolcla.com.

Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share, TPS readers? If so, hit that comment button and share away! We’d love to hear from you.

We’re hoping to see you on Wednesday, but with the Founder currently engaged in the trial march, we’ll just have to see how things go! Let’s see just how fabulous a “double Monday” can be. Take the paralegal world by storm. Dominate the legal sector. Make the esquires proud. We certainly plan to! We’ll see you soon…