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  LEGAL LETTER WRITING

GUIDE TO LEGAL LETTER WRITING
Jennifer Corrin-Care

CONTENTS Introduction

The aims of Legal Letter Writing

Summary of the most important aims of legal letter writing

The Recipients of Legal Letters

Essential Qualities of all Legal Letters

Formalities of Legal Letter Writing

 Summary

Introduction

Legal letter writing is a very important drafting skill. It is used more than any other drafting technique, but is perhaps the least emphasised in drafting courses and manuals. Badly drafted letters can adversely effect your client’s case. In extreme cases, they could also found an action against you in negligence.

Advances in technology have changed the ways in which letters can be sent, eg to faxes and e-mail, but the substance and importance of letter writing remains relatively unchanged.

 The aims of Legal Letter Writing

The aim of legal letter writing depends on the type of letter that is being written. Letters can be put into two broad categories:

Letters in the first category set the scene for the relationship between solicitor and client. It is the channel through which advice and instructions are confirmed.

Letters in the second category can be used as a tool through which others maybe persuaded, cajoled, threatened or compelled to take certain action. They are a means to establishing and conducting constructive discourse.

Generally, letters in both categories provide a record through which the history of the case can be traced.

Summary of the most important aims of legal letter writing:

To convey information (including advice or opinion)

To persuade

To obtain information

To create a particular impression

To make an offer of settlement

To confirm or record

The Recipients of Legal Letters

In writing a legal letter it is always important to bear in mind who the recipient is, as this will dictate the tone and content of the letter. These will be:

Essential Qualities of all Legal Letters

You should always plan your letter in advance. It is wise to follow established forms and styles, unless you have a good reason not to. They have the advantage of having been tried and tested. Clearly identify:

You should also comply with any local requirements regarding your official stationery.

Always keep a copy of your letter on the file.

All legal letters must:

Formalities of Legal Letter Writing

There are a number of conventions that prevail in the form and style of legal letter writing. Some are different from those that apply in other contexts. House styles of different lawyers and firms differ to some extent. Clients and other recipients become used to these conventions, understand them and this itself is a reason for continuing them.

Where to place the addressee’s address

Put this in the upper left hand of the page under the addresser’s letterhead. The address should include the fax number, if that is how it is being sent. By convention the physical address is always included, even if the letter is sent by fax,

 The date

Insert the date under the address.

 Salutation

It is usual to address a letter to a client or potential witness in the personal form, using their family name or even, if you have been encouraged to do so by the client, their first name. In some cases, for example, where the client is a child in a personal injury case, it may be appropriate to use the more familiar form of address in any event.

By contrast, when writing to members of the public who are neither clients nor potential witnesses, a less personal approach may be preferable. A letter of demand should begin ‘Dear Sir’. A letter to the Registrar of a court, who is known to be female, should be to ‘Dear Madam’. In writing to solicitors or other commercial concerns in connection with your professional work the convention is to use ‘Dear Sirs’ if the partners are all male. If they are not, or where the gender of the recipient is unknown, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or even ‘Sirs/Madams’, might be appropriate. The letter can be addressed to an unnamed individual in an organisation, such as ‘The Managing Director’ or ‘The Secretary’, in which case, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is a suitable opening.

Always use a reference, if it is provided by which the person or organisation with whom you are corresponding. This not only enables the recipient to find the relevant file more speedily, but also looks, and is, efficient.

Addressing a letter appropriately sets both a scene and a standard. Inappropriately addressed letters create the wrong impression of your professionalism.

The heading

Usually underlined, sometimes with the short form "Re:" before it

It will have a file reference if there is one.

Example: ‘Re: Purchase of Residential Property at Tassiriki

Once litigation has commenced, you should normally use the title of the action as the heading. If you act for the defendant, it is traditional to put the defendant’s name first and use the letters ‘ats’ before the name of the plaintiff. ‘ats’ stands for ‘at the suit of’.

It is helpful to use further headings and subheadings in a letter to assist in understanding.

Openings

Make sure that your recipient knows why you are writing. If the letter is following up on something, such as a meeting, a phone call or another letter from or to the recipient, refer to this. Put the letter into context for the reader, especially if the letter is to be more than a paragraph long.

Body of the letter

Keep in mind the audience, the purpose and the qualities of a good legal letter.

Letter of Advice to Client

In letters of advice to clients, a good structure to follow is:

 Purpose

State what the letter is for.

 Problem

State the facts that give rise to the problem

 Summarise your conclusion

It may seem strange to state your conclusion near the beginning of a letter. However, it is not a mystery novel you are writing and stating a conclusion can assist the reader in understanding what you have to say the remaining parts where you analyse the problem and set out options.

 Possibilities

Discuss the options that are available in view of the facts and the law that apply.

 Proposal

Set out one of the options as the one you would recommend to the client and explain why it is the most beneficial to them.

Practical Steps

Is there something that either you or your client has to do. If so make it clear who should do what and when. If there is nothing to do but await further developments from the other side, make that clear as well.

It is usual to invite a client to seek clarification if required.

Ending the Letter

If the letter begins ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, it should end with ‘Yours faithfully’.

If the letter begins with a person’s name, eg ‘Dear Mr Wale’ or ‘Dear Mrs Prasad’, it should end with ‘Yours sincerely’.

Attachments

Attachments to a letter should be identified by the abbreviation ‘Encl.’ at the bottom of the letter. With important communications, the documents should be listed, so that the recipient can check that s/he has received everything.

 Summary

The main points regarding legal letter writing are as follows:

  1. Always plan your letter in advance.
  2. Follow established forms and styles unless you have a good reason not to.
  3. Clearly identify:
  4. the name and address of the intended recipient;
  5. the date on which it is sent;
  6. the identity of the sender;
  7. the matter the letter addresses.
  8. Comply with any local requirements regarding your official stationery.
  9. Use plain English wherever possible.
  10. Always keep a copy of your letter on the file.

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