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Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Stage 6: Synthesize Arguments and Prepare Detailed Outline

Revise Statement of Issues

Based on your most recent research, revise the statement of issues. Analyze your new cases and indicate how the arguments apply to the fact situation.

Synthesize the Arguments

Having analyzed all the case and statute references, consider how they all fit together. When read as a whole, what do the cases and statutes say? What principles can be inferred that connect the cases you are using?


  • How does your argument fit together?
  • Is it logically organized, such that you discuss certain issues that logically precede subsequent issues?
  • What are the weaknesses in your argument?
  • Can you distinguish any of the leading cases?
    • on the facts?
    • not binding in your jurisdiction?
    • if binding, can it be restricted to a narrow ratio?
    • can you use obiter dicta or strong dissents?
    • are other cases more persuasive?
  • Have you correctly incorporated any statutes or regulations?
  • Can any of your cited authorities be interpreted differently or rendered not applicable on the facts?

Prepare a Detailed Outline for Your Written Analysis

By now your statement of issues is quite detailed and contains the leading cases, statutory references, and analogous cases. Think ahead to your written analysis. It will help you determine whether you have done enough research, or whether there are still points needing further research. When doing a legal memorandum, you are producing a clear and concise analysis of each legal issue and how those legal principles are applied to the specific facts of the problem.

The legal memorandum has a traditional format for the analysis, something like:

  • For each Issue, a Statement of the General Rule and the List of Elements (i.e., conditions) Required to Satisfy the Rule
    • Description of First Element
    • Description of Second Element
    • Etc.

This may need to be expanded (depending on the issue) to include:

  • Policy arguments (interests that are balanced; factors considered in balancing these interests)
  • Law in other jurisdictions (if this is a novel issue)
    • List of different rules adopted in other jurisdictions
    • Statement regarding which rule the majority of the courts have adopted
    • Reasons courts have given for adopting a particular rule
  • Critical evaluation of each rule and prediction about which rule the court would adopt
  • Application of the rule to facts

You need to transform your detailed statement of issues into a detailed outline of your analysis in the format required by the legal memorandum.

Format for Legal Memorandum

The following is one format among many for a legal memorandum:

  1. The Heading
  2. The Statement of Facts
  3. The Question Presented
    • Determining the Number of Issues and the Order in Which They Should Be Presented
    • Writing the Question Presented
      • Statement of the Legal Question the court is being asked to decide
        • The applicable law
        • The legally significant facts
  4. The Brief Answer
  5. The Discussion Section (a clear and concise analysis of each legal issue and how it can be applied to the facts)
    • Identifies applicable law
    • Determines whether the application of law to facts is likely to be in dispute
    • If the application is in dispute, looks at analogous cases to determine how like cases have been decided.
    • Determines what arguments each side is likely to make
    • Predicts the outcome: Given the law, analogous cases, and arguments, how is the court likely to decide the case?
  6. Conclusion
    •  Summarize your analysis very concisely.
    • Given your conclusion on each issue, how is the case likely to be resolved?

Identify Next Research Steps

  • Research any missing points identified by the detailed outline of your written analysis.
  • Cross-check your research by quickly browsing in other sources to make sure leading cases or issues have not been missed.
  • This need not take a long time as you are already familiar with the cases and legislation.