How to Write a Good Law Report

A law report or "memo", as it is commonly referred to in the legal community, is an analysis and discussion of a particular legal issue. American legal issues are analysed by researching prior case law and any relevant state or federal statutes that may apply.

Defining the issue is the starting point for a legal memo or report. Legal issues should be condensed into a concise sentence in question form. Some situations will involve more than one legal issue that will need to be analysed separately. An example of a concisely stated issue is: "Was the defendant negligent when he failed to place a warning sign on a wet floor after mopping?"

Determine whether your issue implicates state or federal law. Most criminal charges, tort actions, contract disputes and situations involving real property will be governed by the law of the state where the incident arose. Constitutional issues and other situations that implicate specific federal statutes or regulations will be governed by federal law. You may need to do a moderate amount of research to determine which category your issue falls into.

Research case law and statutes that are relevant to your issue. For instance, if your issue is whether a person acted negligently, look for cases that have similar facts and deal with the question presented in your issue statement. You can access case law at your county's courthouse for free, or you can use an online legal database such as Westlaw or Lexis Nexis for a fee.

Organise the cases that you have found according to the ruling. The judge in a prior case will have determined that a factual scenario either constitutes an actionable offence or does not. You should continue your research until you have found a substantial amount of factually similar cases with differing outcomes.

Read the "analysis" section of each case. This section is the basis of the judge's decision in the case. Take notes on how the judge uses prior case law to analyse the facts of the case in dispute and make his final determination on the issue.

You can create a legal report or memo using any written medium. Generally a legal memo or report is separated into five sections: legal issue(s), facts, statement of the law, discussion and conclusion. If you are using a word processor, you can type these five headings into your document before filling in the content of your report.

Fill in the "Legal Issue" section. The only thing that needs to go here is the issue that you have already identified. It should be stated in the form of a question.

Fill in the "Facts" section. Here you are telling the story that produced the legal question. Make sure to include all relevant facts and background information.

Fill in the "Statement of the Law" section by stating the particular law(s) that are relevant to your case. Relevant law can be found from the cases and regulations that you previously researched. Sometimes the relevant law will have multiple elements that must be met. If this is the case, you must state each element. This is most common with criminal and tort law offences.

Fill in the "Discussion" section by analysing the facts of your case against the relevant law. Explain how the facts of your case differ from and are similar to prior cases and how the relevant law should apply. Use prior cases with differing outcomes that you found through your research to enhance your analysis.

State your final conclusion on the issue under the "Conclusion" heading of your brief. This section should be short and concise.