Point-first writing is one of the most important guiding principles in drafting an Alexsei memo.
Specifically, point-first writing requires a proposition to be stated clearly before that proposition is developed or supported. Laskin, J.A. stated the following in an article about writing more persuasive factums:
Unfortunately, too many factums contain either point last writing or no-point-at-all-writing. Lawyers seem to resist giving their conclusion upfront. They think that readers need to understand how the argument develops, or that readers will not appreciate their point until they are familiar with the relevant facts or that an anticipated conclusion will make the ultimate conclusion repetitive. As valid as these concerns may be, they do not outweigh the desirability of point-first writing.
At Alexsei, point-first writing is essential to writing a concise and persuasive memo. And while this article is not focused on the principles of concision and persuasion (each require their own), there are a few things to say here as they relate to point-first writing.
Point-first writing for concision
Contrary to what many may think, being concise is not about the number of words or sentences used; rather, a memo is concise if it feels concise. Reading a memo is an experience. And reading a concise memo makes the content feel easily understandable. In a high-quality memo, the time to understanding is limited only by the complexity of the subject matter.
When a point is stated first, the reader is more likely to understand the memo earlier in their experience of reading it. When a point is clearly stated before any supporting arguments can be made, an informed reader will often guess or intuit support for the proposition. When a point is stated very clearly, in fact, a reader may not even need supporting arguments to understand or be fully compelled by the point.
On the other hand, when supporting arguments are stated first, it is less likely that the reader will be able to guess or intuit the point that will eventually be stated. When many supporting arguments are made in succession, the reader attempts to organize all this information in their head, with little understanding of why it all matters. The memo certainly doesn’t feel concise, and is more difficult to understand quickly.
Point-first writing for persuasion
Memos written with the point stated first are also more persuasive. When we say persuasive, we don’t mean the conventional sense of ‘persuasion’ traditionally used in the world of adversarial advocacy. In fact, this type of persuasion is something we avoid. Instead, we aim for Alexsei memos that persuade the reader that the legal principles elucidated are in fact true. We strive to find the truth in the law, where possible, and persuade our readers of that truth.
Point-first writing is more persuasive for reasons similar to why it is more concise. The reader comprehends a stated proposition, and without yet reading any supporting arguments assesses its believability. In so doing, the reader again may guess or intuit what the supporting arguments may be, and, in a way, crafts the arguments themselves. Then, with their full attention, after having read the point, they can focus on what the actual supporting arguments are that the writer assessed to be most convincing of the truth of the point.
Putting this into practice
An Alexsei memo always has one point, but also many points. The entire memo begins with the issue statement followed by a “Conclusion.” By putting the Conclusion first, we are adhering to point-first writing. After all, providing an answer to a question is the whole point of every Alexsei memo. On occasion, a Conclusion may consist of two points, but rarely more. Regardless, for each point in a Conclusion, the point is clearly spelled out first, in one or two sentences, then immediately followed by brief supporting commentary, all within one or two paragraphs. The goal is to always reduce the Conclusion to as few points as possible without being overly abstract to a degree that renders the memo useless.
Following the Conclusion is the “Background Law” section, wherein the purpose of every sentence is to ultimately support the Conclusion. The Background Law will have many points, each broken up into separate paragraphs or subsections. Like with the Conclusion section, for each point, the point is stated first, in one or two sentences, then immediately followed by supporting commentary. Unless otherwise required, each paragraph and subsection should follow an order of importance, with the most important paragraphs and subsections provided first.
Finally, the last section of an Alexsei memo is always the list of “Authorities.” While in-text citations are also always provided, having a list of Authorities, each with a hyperlink to a published source where available, is often very helpful.