A question presented and brief answer in a predictive legal memo serve three purposes, according to Coughlin, Rocklin, and Patrick, A Lawyer Writes 217–18 (2d ed. 2013):
- They play a “time-management role” by allowing your reader quickly to discover the question your memo addresses, its answer, and the factual and legal bases upon which that answer turns. Though the person to whom you address the memo almost certainly expects it and anticipates its content at the time you write it, that same person may later need to re-orient herself to the memo’s contents. The question presented and brief answer allow her to do so quickly.
- They make “your detailed analysis easier to absorb.” Because the question presented and brief answer put your reader on notice as to the key facts and key legal rule(s) that govern the answer to the question, she will understand your memo better as you place a framework and detailed legal analysis around these key points. It helps her to anticipate your analysis.
- They make your memo potentially useful to your colleagues in the future if they need to address a similar problem. The question presented and brief answer identify key issues that will allow a later reader to assess its potential utility as a “starting point for the attorney’s research and analysis of the new problem.” If the question presented and brief answer suggest that your question and her new question turn on the same law and similar facts, she can mine your memo for arguments, legal authorities, and ideas for answering her question.
Note that different legal employers use different conventions for naming and may not refer to “question presented” and “brief answer” using those terms. When you arrive in a new environment, look at how the attorneys around you are doing things and emulate them.