Checklist for an Office Memo - The Short Answer


While writing the short answer keep these questions in front of you:

  1. Have you stated the answer in the first several words?
  2. Have you included a statement of the rule?
  3. Have you stated a summary of the reasoning leading to the answer?
  4. Have you chosen generic references to match the Question presented?
  5. Have you tried to keep the brief answer to a maximum of a double spaced page?
  6. Have you taken a position, even if you are not sure?
  7. Have you avoided sending your reader mixed signals about how sure you are of the answer?

Many student writers fail to briefly apply facts to support the thesis.  For example:


Smith will be successful in his claim for false-light invasion-of-privacy. Under Arkansas common law, a plaintiff can recover damages for  false-light invasion-of-privacy when he can prove "1) that damage was sustained; (2) the publicity given places the plaintiff in false light; (3) the false light the plaintiff is placed in would be highly offensive to a reasonable person; (4) the defendant had knowledge of or acted with reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter; (5) the defendant had serious doubts as to the truth of the matter publicized; and (6) the damages were proximately caused by the defendant's giving of such publicity."  Wal-Mart v. Lee, 74 S.W.3d 634 (Ark. 2002).  In cases of false-light invasion-of-privacy, the burden of proof is governed by the clear and convincing evidence standard. Dodrill v. Ark.Democract Co., 590 S.W.2d 840, 845 (Ark. 1979).


The reader does a nice job setting out the law but does not apply any facts from the case to support the thesis that the plaintiff will be successful with his cause of action.


Other students include many facts but never apply them to the law forcing the reader to connect the dots.  For example:


Yes, our client has a claim for false light invasion of privacy.  To satisfy the four disputed requirements of this claim, the teacher must prove that the newspaper publisher gave publicity to highly offensive, false statements about the teacher, and that the publisher either knew the statements were false, or acted in reckless disregard regarding the falsity of the statements.  The newspaper labeled our client as having been arrested in a cocaine raid.  Our client has no prior record of drug-related offenses, and was arrested for possession of marijuana, not for cocaine distribution.  The statements were made in a local newspaper, and as a result, our client has been subject to harassment and anger from fellow members of the community.  The publisher doubted the accuracy of its article and did not verify the statements were true, yet had access to the official police report which stated that the teacher was arrested for marijuana possession.


The writer provides some great, relevant facts but never ties these facts to the elements.


This next writer does a much better job of including and applying facts to the law.


No. In order to bring a false light invasion of privacy claim under Arkansas state law persons must prove: 1) they were placed in a false light, 2) the light in which they were placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, 3) the publication constitutes publicity, 4) the author acted with actual malice, 5) they suffered damages, and 6) the damages were proximately caused by the giving of said publicity. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Lee, 74 S.W.3d 634, 656 (Ark. 2002).  In the case at hand, the newspaper article portraying a teacher arrested for marijuana possession as a cocaine dealer places him in a false light, is highly offensive, and is publicity.  However, obtaining a name from an arrest list does not constitute actual malice by the reporter.