I am enjoying reading the current issue of the Journal of Legal Education. In particular, the second article, From Snail Mail to E-mail: the Traditional Legal Memorandum in the Twenty-First Century, authored by Kristin K. Robbins-Tiscione, has gotten me thinking about the documents we use to teach students in the first-year writing courses.
Like nearly all contemporary legal-writing programs, our courses are centered on objective writing–traditional research memoranda–in the fall and persuasive writing–briefs–in the spring. Robbins-Tiscione’s research suggests that traditional research memoranda are going out of style in actual law practice. As Figure 4 in her article demonstrates, students’ perception of the usefulness of traditional memos has plummeted in recent years. Robbins-Tiscione surveyed graduates of the classes of 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2003. Graduates from 1983 through 1998 agreed by large majority (between 75 and 81 percent) that learning to write traditional memos was “extremely helpful” or “very helpful.” In 2003, though, that number fell to 59 percent. In 2003, for the first time, a small group of students–3.7 percent–said that learning to write traditional research memos was “not at all useful.
I am dubious that learning to write an office memo is not at least somewhat useful, in any event, because it does force students to use legal authorities to analyze a problem, and to articulate the analysis in writing. I find myself wondering, though, whether I should be moving towards teaching the more informal document formats that are becoming more common in practice, including long, substantive emails. Robbins-Tiscione speculates that the rise in the use of email probably accounts for the decline of the traditional formal office memo.
I would love to hear thoughts about whether the formal legal research memo is on its way to becoming extinct, and about what sorts of documents students should write in legal writing courses.