Uncle.Joe wrote:With regards to turning in quality memos etc., I have some concerns about the fact that I will have not done any legal writing for about a year. What would you suggest someone do to sharpen or practice those skills prior to the summer?
Journal experience is useful, assuming you're on a worthwhile journal. If you are not sure that you can produce typo-written work with clear sentences, then you need to practice this, maybe using Anon168's suggestions. I can't help you with that. Assuming you can write well, however, then there is a bit more you have to understand about memos that actually has little to do with legal writing in law school:
First, most bad memos are not bad because of grammar or sentence structure. They are bad because they miss the purpose of the exercise. Memos are meant not just to inform but also to persuade and/or answer a question. So, memos that are dry recitations of the law are useless (unless you were told something like: "we have no clue what the law is in this area, can you research just what the elements of this cause of action are?"). Memos that have no clear conclusion are useless. Memos that detail case after case without applying them to the specific facts are useless. Your job is to tell the partner what can be done in your specific context.
Second, associates who get the points in the first paragraph still often go wrong because they turn in beautifully-written, typo-free first memos that read like treatises. Here is a detailed description of the law with forty-five case cites, along with what experts and commentators have said, applied to our facts, wrapped up in an objective conclusion that follows from that description and if that conclusion happens to shit on everything we are trying to accomplish in this case, then oh well, thus saith the law. That is the wrong approach. You are a (future) lawyer not a robot. Lawyers are not slaves to the text. We persuade, argue, finesse, elaborate, refer to similar contexts. Even in deals, we are not slaves to prior contracts and instead negotiate for changes, deletions, additions, and addenda that favor our clients.
An example: You are called into a partner's office because the client is contemplating throwing puppies from a window and the partner asks you if this is permissible. "Is this permissible" sounds straightforward and objective. Look at the law and tell me if this is permissible. In reality, however, your task is rarely objective. Your real task is a memo that appears objective but ends up justifying throwing puppies from windows. So, if the case law is clear that puppy-throwing is permissible, then announce that upfront and clearly and be happy. If the case law is not so clear, however, then you can't just roll over. Rather, your task is to use your gumption as an attorney to help the case law support your stance. You should come back with a memo flatly invalidating puppy-throwing only if the law is crystal
clear that throwing puppies from windows is 110% illegal (meaning the highest court has spoken and the case law since then has been clear and there is no dissent or concurrence you can refer to) and
there is no rationale whatsoever in your jurisdiction or any other jurisdiction under which you can justify that activity and
there is no reference to similar contexts (such as cases permitting dog-throwing or kitten-throwing or animal-throwing in general) that you can make and
there is no secondary source that has suggested puppy-throwing might be okay. Otherwise, even where most of the case law/sources disfavor you but there is something you can use, your memo should read as follows: Although the case law suggests that puppy-throwing may be problematic, here is what we can use to at least argue that it should be permitted in our context: [insert summary]. Of course, you must mention what disfavors you and discuss it well (never bury contrary case law). The point is though that you have to go beyond this and fight for what does favor you. You can't just quit because lexis nexis didn't spit up a case with perfect language or because it spit up a series of cases that are harmful to your client's stance. You want to permit the partner to go back to the client and say "listen, this puppy-throwing thing is problematic because [insert reasons], but if you want to persist in this course of action, we have a plan and here are the arguments we can make." Where associates most often go wrong is regarding those memos where the law is not completely on our side, but there is even the smallest bit of wiggle room and the associate lacked the creativity and determination to find and discuss that wiggle room.