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Writing Better Letters

by Alexa Drago on July 22, 2019

By: Michael L. Goldblatt

Originally Published on Blumberg Blog on August 8, 2018

Printed with the permission of www.Blumberg.com/blog and BlumbergExcelsior, Inc.

 

Despite a decline in letter writing, letters remains an effective method of communication. Letters are useful for persuading an adversary, explaining complicated issues to a client, and submitting detailed proposals and replies. Letters also work well for personal matters like condolences, congratulations, and thank you’s. Read on for tips for writing professional letters that improve your communications.

 

Electronic vs Paper

As a first step, consider whether to send a text message or email since they serve a different purpose than letters. Text messages are best for urgent communications, but they can be intrusive, misplaced, and misunderstood. Emails are less intrusive and work well for short requests, quick updates, and distributing information quickly to a large number of people. Letters are effective for communicating lengthy, complex, or confidential information. Letters must be carefully written since they are held to a higher standard of care than electronic communications. Consider using a hybrid approach of combining an electronic message with a missive by attaching a lengthy letter to a short e-mail introducing it.

 

Audience

The next step is to consider your audience and what you are trying to communicate to it. If you are writing to an adversary, remember that the letter may be shared with co-counsel, clients, business associates, and family members.  Remember the audience when setting the letter’s tone and content. For example, avoid legal jargon when writing to clients and avoid acrimony when writing to adversaries. After you write the letter, proofread by reading it aloud to assure that it maintains a high standard of courtesy and professionalism.

 

Writing

Letters usually begin with contact information for the writer followed by the address of the recipient, date, subject, and a salutation. The body of letters should include an introductory paragraph explaining its purpose and conclude with a summary paragraph that includes a thank you.

 

Addressing

The format for addressing letters and envelopes varies depending on the recipient’s profession. For example, insert Attorney at Law or Esq (the abbreviation for Esquire).after the last name when addressing a letter or envelope to a lawyer. For a list of preferred formats, see U.S. General Services Administration’s Style Manual.

 

Subject

Use the subject line like a newspaper headline. Convey the main point of your communication and include a reference to any relevant case, contract, or matter number.

 

Salutation

It is acceptable to address the recipient by first name if you know them personally (e.g. Dear John). When in doubt, address recipients more formally to avoid offending them by using a title (or first name) and last name (e.g. Dear John Doe or Dear Ms. Jones). For guidance, see the Forms of Address website for recommended titles to use in salutations. For example, the title for a trial judge is Dear Judge whereas Dear Justice is used to address a letter to a member of an appellate court.

 

Stationery

To make a favorable impression, letters should be written on high-quality paper imprinted with a stylized heading at the top (a/k/a letterhead) that includes your firm’s name, address, phone number, fax number, e-mail, URL, and logo. The letterhead should be printed with a font that is large and easily read. Consider hiring a consultant to design the firm’s letterhead and logo to keep a consistent image on letters, envelopes, invoices, business cards, and marketing materials. A well-designed letterhead shows recipients that your firm is trustworthy and reliable.

 

Delivery

Letters can be delivered electronically (e-mail or fax) or physically (postal or courier service). Chose the method of delivery based on urgency and importance of proof of delivery. Remember to indicate the method of delivery in your letter above the recipient’s address with a statement like “Via E-mail and U.S. Mail”.

 

Follow-Up

Regardless of whether you use electronic or paper communications, remember to follow-up if you don’t receive a reply within a few days or week. For many people, keeping up with electronic and paper mail has become a heavy burden. Mark your calendar with a reminder.

 

Resources

For sample formats, see the templates included in word processing programs or visit Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. For practical books to improve your writing, read Client Letters for the Family Lawyer (ABA, 2013), Letters for Litigators (ABA, 2004), and Letters for Small Business Lawyers (ABA, 2011).

 

Conclusion

Do not overlook the power of letters to inform and persuade. Use the tips and references mentioned in this article to write professional letters that get results. Share the article with your staff to encourage them to improve their letter writing and your firm’s image.

 

About the Author

Mr. Goldblatt has authored numerous books and articles about marketing for lawyers.

 

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