Legal Opinion letter: Everything You Need to Know

A legal opinion is a common form of formal communication between lawyer and client and sometimes lawyer and lawyer. Legal opinion is delivered as a letter popularly known as ‘Legal opinion letter’.  

This letter always contains factual analysis and application of the law basing on those facts/issues. 

To help lawyers in public services, advocates, law students, and the public at large to deliver high-quality legal service, here I will share with you the ultimate guide for drafting the best legal opinion letter.

    What is the legal opinion?

    Legal opinion is the attorney’s expression of his professional findings concerning specific legal matters and issues on which his or her reasoned opinion was requested. 

    Legal opinion is a response of attorney on specific legal issues and it is always backed up with relevant legal authorities concerning legal issues at hand.

    What is a legal opinion letter?

    Legal opinion letter is a formal written letter from the attorney to the client or colleague contains the reasoned opinion on relevant legal issues as required by the instructor.

    Legal opinion letter drafting process

    Opinion writing demands some sets of advocacy skills from an attorney. Those skills include

    The following are the processes which involved in drafting legal opinion letter.

    7 processes involved in drafting legal opinion letter

    1. Receiving instructions from the client

    This is the foundation of a Legal opinion letter.  Here you should interview a client so as you can determine

    • What does the client want
    • Background of the case/issue
    • Relevant documents to support his claim
    • Instruction will raise questions and the answer must tell the client what he wants to know. Possible Questions that maybe raise are
    • Is there a good case?
    • If so what remedies are available?
    • Damages/ compensation?
    • Is there a good defense to this action or case? If not how can the liabilities be minimized?

    2. Preparing to write a legal opinion letter

    Here you must read the instructions first and get a clear view of what you are asked to do. It is important to start an opinion with a brief summary of the facts of the situation you have been asked to deal with. 

    This is a good style and should ensure that there is no misunderstanding of the basis of the opinion.

    Organize the other documents in the brief before you start to read them to ensure that before you start to read them, to ensure that you read the most important first.

    3. Absorb and organize the facts

    • Make a chronology of basic facts and dates.
    • Make notes of people involved, items involved etc
    • Make notes dealing with any figures provided.
    • Identify and note gaps in the information provided.
    • Note areas where evidence exists and where evidence is required

    4. Answer the primary questions

    • What does my client want to know?
    • You have to have a clear idea of what your client wants to know.
    • Your client is interested in the facts as it affects her. e.g., Will, I have to pay damages to the plaintiff? If so how much?  Am I going to be convicted? If so how long will be the sentence or is there a possibility of a fine in a sentence or is there a possibility of a fine in an alternative?

    5 Construct a legal framework

    • Note precisely what the instructions ask you to do.
    • List possible causes of action.
    • Analyze the potential strengths and weaknesses of each possible cause of action.
    • Note other legal issues, for example, potential defenses.
    • Note relevant procedural points.
    • Note areas that may require Legal research.

    An example of a legal framework: In a personal injury case based on negligence;
    • Did XXX owe my client a duty of care?
    • Was XXX in breach of duty?
    • What are my client’s injuries?
    • Were those injuries caused by XXX negligence?
    • Were they reasonably foreseeable?
    • How much are they worth?

    6. Decide on an appropriate course of action

    • Is the issue that you're dealing with urgent or not? Act immediately if there is any sense of urgency.
    • Make decisions on the work required before an opinion is written
    • If an opinion cannot be written without further work, decide whether a conference will be required, or substantial Legal research
    • If the brief is beyond your experience or outside your normal areas of practice consider whether it should be returned.
    • Carry out any necessary work prior to writing opinion
    • List all work that will need to be done before the opinion is written.
    • When necessary get any extra factual information required from the solicitor.
    • Carryout any necessary Legal research, making clear notes of the outcome for future reference.

    7. Make outline notes for your legal opinion letter

    Here you should;

    • Ensure that work under all the above categories has been properly completed.
    • Decide what your conclusions will be so that the opinion can be clear and consistent. 
    • Note all the elements that will need to be covered by the opinion and decide on a suitable structure.
    • Make full notes for the opinion to include all factual and legal elements.

    Principles for writing a legal opinion letter

    8 Principles for drafting /writing a legal opinion letter

    1. The context must be clear

    • The opinion must clearly reflect who it is written to, the solicitor and the client.
    • The opinion should clearly appreciate the in the case that has been reached.
    • The opinion should clearly reflect which side it is written for.

    2. The opinion must be clear

    • The purpose for which the legal opinion letter is written must be clear.
    • The client’s objectives must be clearly reflected in the opinion.

    3. The legal opinion letter must reflect proper preparation

    • The opinion must be based on a thorough and accurate analysis of the facts.
    • The opinion must be based on comprehensive Legal research.

    4. The legal opinion letter must have a clear structure

    • Each individual area of advice should be dealt with separately.
    • Areas of advice should be dealt with in an appropriate order.
    • Appropriate subheadings and numbered paragraphs should be used wherever they will make an opinion easier to read.

    5. The legal opinion letter must use appropriate terminology

    • An opinion should be written in good grammar.
    • An opinion should be written in clear and precise terms.
    • An opinion should include accurate legal terminology where necessary.
    • An opinion should deal appropriately with medical or other expert terminology.

    6. A legal opinion letter should include appropriate legal content 

    • Important relevant statutory sections should be referred

    Cases should be referred with a full reference.

    (a) Clear authority for a particular legal proposition.
    (b) Particularly relevant to the facts.
    (c) A  particularly recent decision on a point.

    • A statute or case should be quoted only when It has direct relevance.
    • Practitioner books should be referred to if appropriate for the solicitor to look up a particular point.
    • Legal propositions must be dealt with clearly and accurately.

    7. An opinion should focus on the position of the client 

    • An opinion should show an appropriate understanding of the client’s problem.
    • An opinion should present arguments that will promote the client’s objectives as far as possible.
    • An opinion should clearly present any options open to the client.
    • An opinion should present the client’s case reasonably, not with false optimism.

    8. An opinion should reflect a professional approach

    • An opinion should be objective.
    • An opinion should show a thorough professional understanding of how the case will proceed. 
    • An opinion should reach clear conclusions, even if the conclusion is that there are options or doubts. 
    • An opinion must be realistic, not academic.
    • An opinion must observe any appropriate ethical principles.
    • A particularly recent decision on a point
    • A statute or case should be quoted only when it has direct relevance.
    • Practitioner books should be referred to if appropriate for the client to look up a particular point.

    • Legal propositions must be dealt with clearly and accurately.

    Final Remarks
    In order to determine  you have written a good legal opinion letter you have to check;

    • Is written in a correct grammatical English
    • Is written in clear, plain language
    • It covers everything that needs to be covered;
    • It is fully reasoned;
    • It gives a whole answer to every question;
    • It gives full advice;
    • It contains no irrelevancies;
    • It deals with the heart of the matter
    • It is no longer than reasonably necessary.  
    • Is properly headed, laid out and signed
    • It has a clear and appropriate structure and neat on the page.
    • Identifies and addresses the needs and objectives of the client.
    • Shows a proper grasp of the facts
    • Shows a sound understanding of the relevant law
    • Identifies correctly all the material issues.
    • And Gives advice which is; Clear, Identifiable, Appropriate and Sound in every legal aspect example cause of action, liability, damages, legal steps to be taken,

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