One of the things you need to do as a lawyer is write letters. In fact you have to a lot of writing generally. But a lot of it is letters.
But there is not much point in writing letters if they don’t work. How do you write a letter which is effective? Here are my tips:
- Have a good case. If you are in the right you always have a strong advantage!
- Explain very clearly why you are in the right. Make it so plain, that it is impossible for the reader to misunderstand. Depending on the type of letter being sent, this can be a short pithy paragraph or a long detailed explanation covering several pages.
- Be restrained. If you are in the right, there is no need to be aggressive about it. Just be firm.
- Use clear and easy to understand language. In particular do not use legal jargon or pompous phrases. If you are writing to a lawyer, they will not be impressed. If you are writing to a non lawyer they may not understand you.
- Do not use long paragraphs. Break them up into short chunks of text, and use bullet points (as I am doing in this post). This again will make it easier for people to read. You may think they are pathetic if they can’t read a long paragraph, but the whole point of writing this letter is that they read it. Don’t make it difficult for them.
- Say what you want. If you want several things, split them up and put them in bullet points. If you want a payment of money, explain why the sum you are asking for is the correct one (perhaps include a schedule). You need to be very clear about what you want them to do, as this is the reason why you are writing the letter.
- Give a deadline for them to do whatever it is you want. This must be a reasonable time for them to do whatever it is. For example outstanding rent can be paid within seven days but structural repair work will take a bit longer.
- Say what you intend to do if they do not do as you request within the time period. Will you be issuing legal proceedings? Renting the property out to someone else? Withholding your rent? If you are not sure, say something like ‘I will be looking to my legal remedies’ which sounds ominous but does not commit you to anything.
- If this is your first letter, ask for the full amount or everything you are entitled to (and a bit more if you can justify it). In any negotiation process it is easy to agree to less, but usually impossible to ask for more.
- Don’t send the letter immediately. This is perhaps the most important tip. If you leave the letter, perhaps overnight, and then look at it afresh a while later, you will always find ways to improve it. Mistakes and typos will also be more apparent (it is very difficult to spot your own typos). If appropriate get someone to have a look at it for you. Make sure it is perfect before you send it out.
I have been thinking about letters recently, because in my new Landlord Law service which I am developing with my web designers, we will have a new document generation system. I will be using this to provide more letters for members use.
Although if you follow the rules in this blog post, you will not need me!