"> Plain Language Legal Writing: Part III – Mastering Modern Legal Correspondence November 25, 2014 Cheryl M. Stephens

Modern communications modern technologies administer speed and performance, yet they can’t compose an effective organization letter. Each item of legal correspondence requirements fresh thought and initiative. Plain language methods deserve to aid you get your message with effectively and effectively. The communication speed accessible with fax and also e-mail need to not preclude the application of believed and evaluation to your letters.

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Your letters, even more than any type of various other item of composing, expush your style and also personality. Write in a tone and also style similar to the method you speak; don’t undergo a Jekyll and also Hyde transdevelopment when you collection about writing legal correspondence. Tone is extremely essential in to keeping clients satisfied with your services.

This article provides a checklist for better composing, and details topics in the checklist:

Clarify your purpose.Consider your reader.Write finish and accurate company letters.Organize the letter for highest possible impact.Choose your words thoughttotally.Use contemporary formats.Present out great news and bad news maintaining the psychology of readersin mind.

1. Clarify your purpose

When beginning a creating task, you first need to resolve on your precise objective for composing, then on your reader. Of course, you also have to understand your topic well. These 3 factors will certainly manage the content, tone, and style of your letter.

Legal letters are specialized business letters. You compose organization letters to:

questioninformpersuadeacunderstanding factsrecord processesrecord agreements

2. Consider your reader

Once you are clear around your function, your following action is to identify your reader’s concerns. Placed yourself in the reader’s place and also figure out exactly how you’d want to be addressed in that case. The skills, interests, vocabulary, and also knowledge level of your reader will certainly recognize your tone (primarily skilled however considerate), vocabulary (familiar), and also the amount of information and explacountry required.

Timeless Language

The statement for professional solutions which you will certainly discover enclosed herevia is, in all likelihood, somewhat in excess of your expectations. In the scenarios, I think it is correct for me to avail myself of this possibility to provide you with an explacountry of the reasons therefor.

Level Language

The bill I am sending you via this letter is more than likely greater than you meant, and also I would certainly like to explain why.

Classic Language

This is to acunderstanding your letter of recent date, the contents of which have been duly detailed. In the 3rd paragraph thereof...

Level Language

I have actually obtained and also carefully thought about your letter of June 13. In its 3rd paragraph...

Sexactly how respect for your reader

If you are writing to your own client, be consideprice around the client’s state of mind, understanding of the area of law, familiarity through legal terminology, and level of interemainder in the legal problems.

To earn the reader’s complete attention:

Write to the correct person.Get that person’s name and position appropriate.Use an correct salutation and cshedding.Be regular with previously correspondence to the exact same perkid.Be courteous and diplomatic.Use non-sexist language.Adsimply your tone to suit the reader’s sensibilities.

3. Write complete and specific letters

The content and also format of your letter will certainly depfinish on your objective and the reader’s interests. Each letter you compose have to be complete in itself. Your reader have to not need to review a legal file to understand your letter – if they need to, it will bring about delays.

Use file reference numbers

Use both your own and also the reader’s file referral numbers. Data recommendation numbers aid bereason you or the reader (a senior lawyer, for example) may reexisting the client in even more than one legal matter. In a large firm, you might even have actually 2 clients with the same name.

Give a clear notice

Use the subject line to determine your client, the reader’s client, and also the certain reason for writing. The topic or referral line must likewise include a cite of the specific topic of the letter, for example, “Smith v. Harvey - Scheduling of Discoveries”, is better than a basic recommendation to “Smith v. Harvey - Personal Injury Matter”.

Simplify your recommendation line

Modernize the style of the referral line. You don’t have to incorporate “Re:” or “Subject:” in your referral line. The recommendation line is conceptually part of the body of the letter and also have to be closer to it than to the address. Use one method to highlight the topic line, however don’t incorporate bold form or resources through underlines.

Introduce yourself and also your topic

Your opening paragraph should introduce you or your function in writing. This gives a conmessage for the concern being questioned. Be specific enough to capture the reader’s attention, and don‚t repeat information proclaimed in the recommendation line.

It is usually not vital to determine the last letter you got from your correspondent. When you are responding to a certain settlement sell or statement of terms, but, it does end up being necessary to recognize previous correspondence bereason you want to make clear what you are agreeing with.

Identify the letter you are answering by its day or summarize its contents. For example:

I write to accept the terms of settlement proposed by you in a letter datedJanuary 16, 2006.

With letters being sent electronically, it may not be enough to determine the letter by date alone: You might should state the gist of the letter to which you are replying:

We create to clarify the regards to negotiation proposed in our January 18 letter, which you showed up to accept by method of a restatement of the terms in a letter additionally dated January 18, 2006. Our client has actually not offered to...

If tbelow has actually been a lot delay between receiving a letter and sfinishing a reply, it helps to summarize the letter to which you are responding. If important, you deserve to itemize the points agreed to at a later on allude in the letter.

In April, you created proposing that the Delaney Estate could be brought to a very early conclusion by means of an agreement between the potential beneficiaries to a compromise. We have the right to currently respond to your suggestions....

Fully collection out all the appropriate facts

Give the reader all the indevelopment necessary to resolve your letter. If indevelopment is absent, the reader need to achieve the client file in order to review previously letters and also reports, telephone messeras and so on. If your letter is complete in itself, the reader is most likely to respond sooner.

If you are replying to an earlier letter, show just how the brand-new indevelopment you are giving relates earlier to that letter. You have the right to refer to the questions you are answering:

You ask whether our client has derived an estimate....

You question why the employer need to be responsible for...

Answer the questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, And How?

Sometimes the ideal means to organize your letter is to answer the “Five W” questions: who, what, when, where and also why (the questions that journalists are trained to answer). If you consider all these concerns, you will certainly probably develop a much more complete letter than you would certainly otherwise. This strategy functions especially well once your letter is the initially letter in the issue. After you have explained what is to be done, be certain to define just how. Make specific that you have made it clear that is to perform what.

We will certainly currently ________. When we have had actually your reply, we can then _______.We assume that you will certainly proceed to ________. All that will then reprimary is forus to ___________.

Close with care

The closing paragraph have to not be a stock phrase but a genuine expression of courtesy. Choose your tone carefully: The last words of your letter will certainly echo in the reader’s mind and leave a general impression.

Stay amethod from phrases choose these:

Thank you in advancement for...

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience...

Hoping for the favour of an early reply...

Give a contact to action

In closing, provide a speak to to action to emphasis the reader on what you expect next. Restate briefly what you desire or intend the reader to execute. Or show what course of activity you are going to take following. Try:

a straight specific statement:Promptly after hearing from you, we will...a courteous request or instruction:Will you please inform us once...Please mail the signed release to...a question:Please let us understand once it will be convenient for you to...Considering all this, should we revoke the offer?

4. Organize the letter for highest possible impact

Organize by topic. Put the topics in an order which suits your audience and purpose. Keep paragraphs short. If your letter is long, usage the second paragraph as a pclimbed table of contents:

In this letter, I’ll explain the incorporation files that are enclosed. I’ll evaluation the organizing resolutions of the firm. Then I’ll comment on the yearly duties of the secretary of the agency to look after its legal affairs.

Use topic headings to break up a lengthy letter; use tabulation and lists whenever possible to break up the dense message in a long letter. Use parallel forms of grammar for concepts of equivalent influence or application.

Lawyers regularly ask that a duplicate copy of a letter be signed and also returned to confirm the client’s agreement to a retainer or regards to settlement. It is preferable to write a cover letter explaining what you are doing and encshedding two duplicates of a letter of agreement, via one to be signed and went back. Many kind of overly-long letters can be converted to a brief cover letter via a number of schedules or lists attached.

5. Choose your words thoughtfully

Use daily words

The much easier your words, the clearer your message. There is no excuse for utilizing legal jargon in letters to clients or business associates. If you must usage legal regards to art then administer a brief explacountry or meaning and also apply it to the circumstances.

Avoid jargon, wordiness and repetition.

Encertain, indemnify, andconserve harmlesshave actually comparable or overlapping interpretations. Your client will not understand also these words or the distinctions between them. Try to express your meaning in the simple, clear language that you might use to explain the term to your client orally.

One word that is widely used in cases wbelow it is unnecessary isexecution. Toexecuteis to perform what is essential to make a record valid, and this deserve to incorporate all these steps: signing, sealing, transferring, and transferring out performance of the duties. When you want a customer to pertained to your office to sign a paper, say simply that – don’t ask the client to execute anything unless you expect something more.

Use ordinary, familiar words

Everyone, even a business expert, appreciates language that is basic to understand also. When you compose to various other lawyers, you recognize that the letter will certainly additionally be read by a layperboy – either your client or the other lawyer’s client, so don’t write in legalese. Remember Benson’s definition of a essential term of art: A genuine, technological, term of art has actually an uncontroversial core interpretation that cannot be conveyed succinctly in any type of other way.

How many of your correspondents store Black’s Law Dictionary in their offices? Not as well many kind of. So ask your word processing clerk to rerotate your draft with all legalisms highlighted. You have the right to perform this by utilizing the spell-checker and also not activating any special legal dictionary. Any word not found in a standard dictionary will come ago marked. You deserve to then rearea each one via an extra widespread word. Not just does this present consideration for your reader, it ensures genuine communication.

Trite phrases

Drop the old clichés and also clusters of unnecessary words: create as you stop. Those formalisms that make legal correspondence stuffy need to go.

Cross-out phrases like:

We are in receipt of...This is to acexpertise your letter...Confirming our telephone conversation...This is in reply to your letter of...It is vital to add that...In this regard, it is of significance that...It is amazing to allude out that...I need to additionally suggest out...It is my considered opinion...Let me take this chance to...

Substitute less-stuffy phrases favor these:
Traditional Language

Plain Language

at this suggest in timenow
in the event ofif
pursuant to the terms ofunder
under date ofon, dated
meets with our approvalWe approve
relocate for a continuanceask the court to postpone the case
Attached please findAttached is
I am of the opinion thatI think
I am not in a position toI cannot
I must appreciate your advising mePlease tell me
I would certainly ask that youPlease
Will you be great enough toPlease
Please advise me as toPlease tell me
Please furnish me with informationPlease tell me
In compliance with your requestAs you asked


What tone have to you choose? It really counts on what is appropriate to your function, or what your correspondence is trying to achieve. Be no more formal than vital – there is a propensity amongst lawyers to take on a pompous tone that, much from impushing the reader, is alienating. As Henry Weihofen advised, aim for the simplicity and also buoyancy of good conversation (Legal Writing Layout, Wests, St. Paul, 1961).

The complying with actual letters embrace an inproper tone.

From a lawyer to a legal study consultant (through no previous conversation of this subject)

Dear Sirs:

Please find enclosed herewith a list of publications which are forced by the writer. Please advise the writer if any type of of the enclosed publications are obtainable to you and/or the writer and if so, exactly how perform we go about obtaining them?Your prompt attention to this issue is substantially appreciated,

From a lawyer to a legal composing consultant

Dear (Sir)


Reference is made to your discussions of also date through our Mr. ().

Enclosed please discover photoduplicates (the reduction is of our making) of the product submitted for comparative evaluation.

We look forward to your advice pursuant to the preliminary evaluation pointed out in your discussion via Mr. ().

6. Use modern formats

If your firm does not have actually a compelled style, the block letter create is modern-day and efficient: Do not justify message at the ideal margin and also do keep the date, headings, and also signature lines aligned at the left margin.

Legal correspondence is top-hefty, with data and creates which don’t tell the reader anything of substance or clarify the content of the letter: Take a look at the initially web page of some letters and also you watch no room for message. The letterhead takes up a major chunk of space, the full deal with requirements a few lines, and, of course, numerous lines are devoted to codes around approach of shipment, file referral numbers, day, attention lines, salutation, topic lines, and so on. Often a one-web page letter is forced to stretch to 2 pages just to accommoday such information and the complementary cshed and also signature lines.

Modern organization layouts conthick the room forced by eliminating the salutationand also closing. Some legal correspondents that have embraced this condensed form, report no one has ever before commented on this lack. Eliminating the salutation and the cshedding likewise solves the difficulties explained listed below.


Putting aside such traditional difficulties as needing to understand a woman’s marital status as soon as the letter is addressed to a woguy, salutations continue to pose difficulties. These are difficulties in making use of salutations: once creating to one more firm or to an company, you regularly carry out not understand who will be the recipient of the letter, for instance. And sometimes keeping the salutation and cshedding complementary is a task in itself.

Eliminate the salutation

You don’t have to use a salutation. If you don’t understand the individual’s name and also you are creating to the holder of a particular task, usage the place title, placing it directly over the address:

Managing PartnerLitigation DepartmentHolmes, Henrik and Hoben456 Suisse PlaceZuwell-off, Switzerland

When you are utilizing an attention line to determine an individual, don’t use a salutation. A salutation is repetitious below anyway:

Smith, Hobkirk and Smitt124 Horten BoulevardDenton, Alberta A3T 1W3Attention: Ms. Doris EltonCorporate Legal Assistant

When you don’t usage a salutation, you don‚t should use a complementary close unless it appears even more polite to carry out so. A basic rule: both the salutation and also the close should be comparable in tone and also formality.

If you usage a salutation, choose a neutral form

If you know a woman’s name, you can incorporate it in the attention linewithout referring to marital status:Attention: Barbara Ward, Personnel Administrator,Or you have the right to use her complete name in the salutation:Dear Barbara Ward:Or use“Ms”. Firm human being developed it for just this function.Instead of the “Dear Sirs,” use:Ladies and Gentlemen:Use the name of the department.Dear Litigation Department:

Once you’ve begun corresponding with someone, take on their liked position title and any kind of various other designation. Putting a question on your client-intake form to discover out the client’s desired form of address is a great idea.

Parallelism in Closing phrases

Keep your salutations and also closing parallel and harmonious.

The cshedding expression in a letter is referred to as the free cshed because it is intended to be parallel in tone and style with the salutation.

Here are some parallel pairs:
TonesClosing Phrases

Most formal tone:Sir or Madam:Madam:

Yours respectfully,Respectcompletely,

The judicial formal:The Honourable Allan HarneyChief Justice of British ColumbiaDear Chief Justice Harney:

Yours respectfully,
Formal tone:Dear Ms. Sampson:Dear Sir or Madam:Very truly yours,Yours truly,
Business-like tone:Dear Mr. Thompson,Dear Miss Smith,Yours sincecount,Sincecount,
Familiar tone:Dear Mallory,Dear Tom Johnchild,Many sincedepend,Best regards,

7. Psychology for good news or negative news

Set the scene to make the reader comfortable

The framework of a letter sometimes reasons indevelopment tension in the reader. You deserve to aid the reader emphasis on your message by setting up the scene in your introductory paragraph itself. Then isolate points of difference, and also identify locations of agreement. This way you narrowhead the actual worries in problem and avoid an argumentative tone.

Many kind of clients or lawyers (analysis other lawyers’ letters) have learned to flip to the last web page of a record. They understand that they will certainly discover the answers to their inquiries and the conmessage for the letter in the last paragraph or 2. Then they go back and review the letter from the start to obtain the detail or follow the argument. Such letters don‚t disclose the ideal company.

Your answer or conclusion constantly goes in the start. Fix the concerns in the reader’s mind as a frame for the rest of the letter. The body of the letter answers inquiries and also explains exactly how you got to your conclusion.

Give positive news early

If you have actually somepoint positive to report, don’t save the reader in suspense. A long arrival produces apprehension. Say “yes” conveniently, then supply the essential details and also cshed your letter in a friendly or upbeat method.

Give bad news in a neutral or positive tone

Remember that nobody likes rejection. A “no” letter is best composed in a neutral, constructive tone. At least say give thanks to you for the repursuit, complaint, or offer. Speaking in the first perboy will certainly provide your remarks a human touch. Try to be knowledge and sympathetic. Be cautious to disapprove the repursuit, not the person who made it. Begin neutrally with somepoint that allows you obtain quickly right into the topic.


Find somepoint necessary you have the right to agree on.Concede what you can’t win.If you have actually made a mistake, admit it.

When you are reporting a decision you have made, collection out the conmessage for your decision so the reader is receptive. If you have the right to, provide the factors you rejected the repursuit.

Deliver the unwelcome message later on and also be gracious. Try to say “no” indirectly rather than directly. Let the reader infer the “no”.

Provide an out for the recipient – indicate a positive alternative to what he or she originally sought, or some various other solution to the difficulty. Cshed through a positive statement, also if it is only an offer to take into consideration any future repursuits.

How to say Yes and also No

The following guides are appropriate for letters which need to answer a question with a simple yes or no.

The YES Letter

Don’t make the reader anxious. Say “yes” and also intricate.

Say “Yes” in opening.Supply the essential details.Cshed in a friendly method.

The NO Letter

Even if your message is negative, try to keep “no” letters positive or matter-of-truth in tone; soptimal in the first perchild, include the huguy touch. Reject the repursuit, not the perkid.

Say “give thanks to you” for the repursuit.State the context for the decision so you deserve to prepare the reader.Unfortunately, the courts have not addressed this question before...Say “no” graciously (or by inference).To take this situation would be to mislead you regarding the likelihood of eventual success...Provide an out (a positive alternative).If other supportive facts concerned light, execute not hesitate to call me aget.Cshed with a positive statement.I appreciate your consulting me about this matter and also would be pleased to discuss other matters through you in future.

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Adapted from "Level Language Legal Writing" by Cheryl M. Stephens, ASAP Legal Publishing 1999.