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APUS Legal Studies Program Writing Guide

Writing an Office Memorandum

The Legal Studies Program office memorandum format is in the sample that follows.

Before You Write

Generally, you need to first think about the issue(s) you are to brief. Read your assignment instructions carefully, and draft the issue statement. Make sure you get it right, as this will enable you to focus the rest of your memo appropriately. Once you have the issue(s) properly identified, then write out the facts. Once you have completed this, you are ready to do your research. Understand, though, that your issue and facts statements are still working documents, and you will likely edit what you have already written.

Find the applicable law (statutes and case law) and read and think about them. Identify key statutory terms and define them. Read the cases that apply, and brief them so you understand what each case is about. Bear in mind that case briefs are the building blocks of other (more involved) legal research and writing projects. Once you have completed your case briefs, you are ready to outline the rest of your office memo, starting with the brief answer and followed by the analysis section. Make sure you write an outline before you jump in and start writing.

Review your outline to make sure your analysis fully supports your brief answer (conclusion). It must flow logically, with no steps in your thought process left out. If you don't write down the entire analysis, your brief answer will be "conclusory" and will not be helpful to the reader of the memo (probably your boss, the supervisory attorney, if you are a paralegal). If you have more than one issue, make sure that you organize the memo accordingly, so that it is clear at all times which issue you are addressing.

Writing Your Brief

Once you have done this, you are ready to write. Just get your thoughts down, and then, once you are finished, go back to review your writing for both content and writing mechanics. Make sure your analysis includes a counter analysis. Again, that counteranalysis must be logical. 

Your recommendations should be practical and flow logically from your conclusion. Think about what else an attorney is going to need to know before walking in to court with the case. Often, you will find that more factual investigation is in order. If that is the case, say so. Be specific. Be clear and concise in your writing, as that will make the most sense to your reader. Remember, your reader is a busy person who does not have time to figure out why you are making those recommendationsit should be self-evident by virtue of what you have written in the memo.

Sample Office Memorandum

To:  Mr. Plentibux, Senior Partner

From:  I. M. Useful, Summer Intern

Case:  Pain v. I. Make Guns, Inc.

Date:  25 December 2010


Re:  Potential tort liability of our client, I. Make Guns, Inc. (IMG), for injuries and damage caused by a gun it manufactured during a criminal assault


Statement of Assignment


You have asked me to prepare a memorandum addressing the following questions: May IMG be held liable for damage and injury caused by a gun it manufactured in the commission of a crime under a negligence theory? Is IMG potentially liable under a theory of strict liability for damage or injury caused by a gun it manufactured in the commission of a crime? 



Whether IMG is potentially liable in the District of Columbia under a negligence or a strict liability theory for injuries Mr. Imin Pain suffered when a previously convicted felon shot him in the chest during a robbery with a “Saturday Night Special” handgun manufactured and marketed by IMG?


Brief Answer


No. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prohibits a civil liability action from being brought by a victim of a gun crime against a gun manufacturer in state or federal court for damages suffered as a result of improper use of a gun. Further, there is no basis under the law of the District of Columbia to hold a gun manufacturer liable under a negligence theory for injuries caused by a criminal’s use of a gun they manufactured.




On 29 December, 2005, Mr. Imin Pain was walking from his house to a liquor store on the corner of 14th Street and K Street when he was attacked by a masked woman carrying a “Saturday Night Special” handgun. The woman, who was later identified as convicted felon Mary Jane, pulled her gun on Mr. Pain, demanded that he hand over his wallet and his keys, and then shot him twice in the chest. One of the bullets lodged in Mr. Pain’s spinal column, causing permanent paralysis from the chest down. The handgun was manufactured by IMG in 2004. It is not known when, where, or how Ms. Jane obtained the gun. The gun was not registered and was not reported as stolen.




The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 § 3, 15 U.S.C. ch. 105, § 7902 (2005) prohibits federal and state lawsuits against gun manufacturers caused by improper or criminal use of guns they manufactured. 

In 1989, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit certified the question of whether established theories of tort law in the District of Columbia provided a cause of action against gun manufacturers and distributors for injuries arising from the guns' criminal uses to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Delahanty v. Hinckley, 564 A.2d 758 (D.C. 1989). The courts both found that selling weapons is not an inherently dangerous activity, and that this doctrine had never been applied to gun manufacturers in the District of Columbia, although it had been applied by the Maryland courts. Id. Further, it was pointed out that a negligence theory would not apply to a gun manufacturer the District of Columbia because there is no recognized “special relationship” between a gun manufacturer and a gun user. The general rule that not tort liability exists for harm resulting from criminal acts of third parties applies instead. Id. at 760.

IMG is a legitimate corporation engaged in lawful manufacture and sale of weapons legal in the United States. It is beyond dispute that IMG manufactured the gun in question, that the gun was used in the commission of a felony in the District of Columbia, and that Mr. Pain suffered serious and life-altering injuries when Mary Jane shot with that gun. That said, any potential lawsuit against IMG for injuries suffered by Mr. Pain would fall squarely within the purposes artiuclated in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. These Purposes include prohibiting causes of action against manufacturers of firearms for harm caused by criminal misuse of their products. 15 U.S.C. § 7901. Furthermore, no theory of liability exists in the District of Columbia by which IG may be held responsible for the criminal misuse of the gun it manufactured by Mary Jane.




IMG may neither be sued in state nor in federal court for Mr. Pain’s injuries caused by Mary Jane’s criminal use of the gun IMG manufactured. If such suit were allowed, however, no tort liability theory exists in the District of Columbia for holding a gun manufacturer responsible for harm caused by the criminal acts of someone like Mary Jane.




Review the most recent case law regarding application of The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in the District of Columbia. 

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