The English used by American lawyers is practically identical to that used by lawyers in Great Britain. However, there are some distinct variations with regard to legal correspondence, legal vocabulary and grammar. Here we have summarised some of the key differences between the two to help you navigate British and American contracts more effectively. A Drafting Contracts in English legal English training course can also help you make the differentiation between the two versions, especially if you are a non-native English speaker.
Non-native English speaking lawyers often wonder whether the style of English they should adopt is dictated by whether they are writing to British or American lawyers. A native speaker from the United Kingdom would always use British English even when writing to a colleague from the United States and may not be aware of the differences in style in American legal correspondence. It’s therefore unrealistic to expect non-native speakers to be more exacting with their use of English. The most important thing is to choose the style that one is most familiar with and be consistent.
Here are a few examples of variations in British and American English.
In the address section of a letter, instead of writing the name of the recipient prefaced by his or her title e.g. Mr John Smith, you will often see the phrase “esquire” after the recipient’s surname. So you may see John Smith Esquire written, or Esq in its abbreviated form.
In British English, the word “esquire” is merely an old fashioned term of respect that can be used whenever the recipient is a man, irrespective of his profession or social status. However, in American English, this word is only used when writing to a lawyer of either gender.
The date of a letter can vary depending on whether it is written in British or American English. In British English, the date in letters is made up of first of the day, followed by the month and then the year like this: 2 January 2011. In contrast, in American English the month appears first followed by the day, a comma and then the year, like this: January 2, 2011.
When the name of the recipient is not known, in American English, it’s possible to start a letter with “Gentlemen” or “Ladies and Gentlemen” instead of the typical British English phrase “Dear Sirs or Dear Sir/Madam”.
The punctuation that follows the salutation is different as well. In British English, either a comma or nothing follows the salutation (e.g. Dear Mr Smith,) while in American English, the comma may be replaced by a colon (e.g. Dear Mr Smith:)
Americans usually write Mr., Dr. etc with a full stop at the end.
In British English the signing off phrase is usually “Yours sincerely” (where the letter is written to a named person) whereas in American English it is “Sincerely yours”.
Where the letter or email has not been addressed to a named individual e.g. “Dear Sir or Madam”, the signing off phrase in British and American English is “Yours faithfully” and “Yours truly” respectively.
By considering some of the above variations in British and American Legal English, you can identify potential misunderstandings and differences more effectively. A tailored Drafting Contracts in English legal English training course will help you to understand these and many other differences to help you have the right impact in your legal role.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011