A bench memo (memorandum) is a short legal document that gives a presiding judge a brief overview of the facts and arguments of a particular case in court. Typically, they are written by a law clerk and are intended to give the judge an idea of the arguments of both sides of a case. They are used as a reference when a judge makes decisions regarding the trial. If they remain neutral, lawyers may submit their own bench memos before the trial begins.
Properly-written bench memos should contain five parts:
- A proper heading, as per the regulations of the court;
- The “Question Presented,” which should state the issue of law the counsel wishes the judge to decide on;
- A “Brief Answer,” analyzing your reasons for believing the judge should rule in the counsel’s favor;
- A “Statement of Facts,” a brief, neutral summation of material that will be presented during the trial;
- An “Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion (IRAC)” that outlines the previous arguments.
The bench memo is intended to be an outline or overview of the trial arguments. It should present facts only, without legal arguments, in a concise and professional manner. The bench memo should have a conclusion after the IRAC that reiterates the primary issues of the case and the evidence (basic facts only) that support it.
Some courts may have particular guidelines regarding the technicalities of writing bench memos (font, formatting, etc.), so it is important to check with the Clerk of Court regarding these formalities.