Checklist for An Office Memorandum - Thesis or Umbrella Paragraph

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The discussion section of the memo needs to begin with a roadmap or thesis (sometimes called umbrella) paragraph.   A thesis paragraph tells the reader what the writer's thesis is, which in legal writing is usually a position or conclusion on a legal issue.  The thesis paragraph should provide a clear statement of the thesis, an overview of the analysis, and a roadmap of the organization. 

 

Thesis paragraphs are important because readers of legal analysis want to know what the writer's conclusion is at the outset, so that they can test it as they read.  They also want to be prepared for the scope and direction of the analysis.  They do not want suspense or mystery.   Thesis paragraphs also provide an anchor for the reader.  Any reader can get lost or confused when reading lengthy or complex legal analysis.  Reviewing the thesis paragraph can frequently get the reader back on track.

 When writing your thesis paragraph ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you summarized the rule, setting out all the subparts and clarifying how they relate to each other?
  • Have you included any important information about how the rule functions generally, such as a burden of proof or a relevant presumption?
  • Have you identified any genuinely undisputed issues and provided a cursory explanation for why they are not in dispute?
  • Have you briefly applied the rule to your facts?
  • Have you stated a legal conclusion?

For more on this topic please see a short article I wrote for the KBA Bench and Bar which can be accessed at:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=990435