Legal correspondence forms an important part of the day-to-day work of a lawyer, particularly since the advent of the email. It is often assumed that emails are less formal than letters. However, in reality, the required degree of formality will invariably depend on factors such as the relationship of the writer with the recipient, the level of seniority of the recipient and the subject matter of the email.
Anyone working in a legal context in English should be familiar with the key expressions and terminology of Legal English. Here are a few important expressions used in semi-formal legal correspondence.
Where there is no named recipient, the phrase “Dear Sirs” is used. However the phrase “Dear Sir/Madam” is often preferable because it is gender neutral.
Where, on the other hand, the letter is written to a named individual with whom the writer does not have a close relationship and is thus not on first name terms, the appropriate gender specific title must be used. With regard to women, unless the writer knows that the recipient is married (where “Dear Mrs” is used), the appropriate title is “Ms”. Even if you know that the recipient is not married, it is best to avoid the title “Miss” as this tends to be considered too pejorative. The exception would be if the recipient has identified herself as “Miss”, possibly using her maiden name in her professional work, in previous correspondence.
A thorny problem arises where the name of the recipient does not make it clear whether the recipient is a man or a woman. For example if you had to write to a lawyer in Finland called Teppi Jaskalainen and were unsure whether Teppi was the name of a man or a woman, the appropriate solution would be to write the entire name in the salutation e.g. “Dear Teppi Jaskalianen”.
References to Previous Correspondence
There is a great variety of possible phrases that seek to refer to previous correspondence between the writer and the recipient such as:
- “Further to your email dated 18 November, I am pleased to inform you that our client is willing to accept the proposed amendments to the confidentiality clause.”
- “Thank you for your email dated 18 November”.
- “I refer to your email dated 18 December”
Be aware that the second and third sentences are more succinct than the first, which in addition to referring to previous correspondence also seeks to set out the purpose of writing the letter.
Where the email sets out numerous comments on a particular clause in an agreement for example, including one of the following sentences that introduces the comments is common:
- My comments on Clause 7 are as follows:
- We have the following comments on Clause 7:
- Our comments on Clause 7 are set out below:
When sending documentation by email we use the word “attach” but when we include documents with a letter we write “enclose” instead:
- Email: “I have attached the draft shareholder agreement.”
- Letter: “I have enclosed the marked up Schedule 2.”
If the writer expects the recipient to read the document or react in some way (e.g. give his comments), they would write “I attach for your attention”. However, where no action is expected on the part of the recipient, we would merely write “I attach for your information.” This would be appropriate, for example, when sending to a client a new brochure or an update on the law.
Giving Good and Bad News
You can introduce good news by using the common phrases “I am pleased to inform you” or “you will be pleased to hear that” in the following ways:
- “I am pleased to inform you that Regional Court has rejected the Defendant’s counter-claim.”
The common phrases “I regret to inform you” or simply “unfortunately” introduce bad news:
- “I regret to inform you that the court fees for lodging a claim at the Regional Court will be 575 Euro from 1 February 2011.”
There are several expressions that typically come at the end of a legal letter or email:
- “Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter”: This expression is extremely helpful when the writer has made several requests earlier in the letter.
- “If you have any questions regarding this letter, please do not hesitate to contact me”: This phrase should be inserted when the letter contains advice. The phrase can be made slightly less formal by using the words “please feel free to contact me…”
- “I hope that this matter will receive your prompt attention”: This phrase is useful when the writer has expressed his concern earlier in the letter that the recipient has failed to do certain things. e.g. pay an invoice. This phrase therefore acts as a reminder for the recipient to remedy the situation
Requesting Future Contact
It is common to end letters with the phrase “I look forward to hearing from you” irrespective of whether the writer expects the recipient to respond in writing or merely telephone him.
There are different ways of signing off depending on the context and relationship to the individual you are writing to.
- If the letter begins with the salutation “Dear Sir/Madam” the appropriate ending is “Yours faithfully”.
- If the letter is to a named individual e.g. Dear Mr Peters, then the appropriate ending is “Yours sincerely”.
- Where the relationship with the recipient is closer, one can end the correspondence with “Kind regards”, “Best regards” or simply “Regards”.
Anyone taking a Legal English training course or looking to improve their Legal English skills can benefit immensely from reading through the key expressions and their use that we highlight in this series about the language of contracts.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012