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Sunday, April 18, 2021

5 Simple Strategies to Write Legal Letters

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Have you ever drafted a letter only to find that your partner or supervisor picks up a series of problems that you wished you had catched caught earlier? Me too.  But these strategies will help you out, both at a conceptual and a practical level for your letter writing.

What I wanted to do was give you some straightforward tips that you can take away right now and you can start drafting better legal letters. It’s as simple as that. Most lawyers want to draft better, they want to write better, they want to communicate better, but how do they actually go about doing it?

you need to think “what is the point of this letter? What am I hoping to achieve?”

It’s all very well to have the Ultimate Guide to Legal Drafting, but sometimes we just need a few simple things to get it done. I’m going to give you some simple strategies to actually get you through from formulating what you need to do to the end.

1. In Legal Drafting you Have to Get to the Point

Let’s start with the obvious. The first point is that you need to have a point.

If you don’t know what the point of your letter is, then you aren’t going to write a very good letter. You’re going to waffle, you’re not going to know where you’re headed, and you’re not going to know what you’re doing. So I strongly encourage you – have a point. You should actually go to the effort of defining the point. You don’t need to write it down, but you need to think “what is the point of this letter? What am I hoping to achieve?”

Are you hoping to:

  • make a point?
  • persuade someone of something?
  • get some information?
  • respond to something?

With so many legal letters being incomprehensibly long, you can distinguish yourself by having a point, articulating that point, and then sticking to it.

2. Develop a Framework for your Legal Letter

This is particularly the case for longer legal letters, but what you want to do is to actually have a framework. You want to have a shape, you want to have an arc.

If you were writing a book, then you would have an arc. You would have a beginning (an introduction), a middle where the substance and content falls, and an end where you tied up the loose ends.

In the case of a legal letter, that’s not what you’re going to do, or at least not in those terms.

Necessarily, what you’re going to have is you’re going to have a framework by which you establish the point that you articulated in the first step.

So if you have a point (and you should), then you might have a number of issues that you need to address in order to get to that point. You can through those issues.

Now, I want to caution you here, and I’m going to come back to this in the next step, which is to avoid going over the top.

Think of it in fairly draconian terms – what are you actually hoping to achieve and what do you need to achieve to do that?

Don’t just think what would be nice to put in there. In particular, think to yourself “do I need this section only for butt-covering or do I need it for some kind of actual tangible purpose?”

So our second legal letter writing tips is to have a framework for your communication.

3. Flesh Out the Legal Letter

After you have a framework, of course, the next step is to actually fill in the pieces, and this is where you can go to town. This is where you fill in the pieces. You can articulate with great clarity and succinctness all of those areas that you have been researching or pondering or thinking about or discussing over the last whatever period of time it’s been.

Now, with this particular situation, though, what you’re going to be inclined to do is to write more than you have to.

Keep referring back to the point you articulated in the first step. If you don’t have to say it to establish the point, than I strongly suggest you don’t say it at all.

And the reason for that is the more you say that is off-topic, the less well made your point is going to be. Extra material is going to dilute your point.

If you think about your point as one drop in an ocean, as you add more and more of that ocean into your letter, the drop is going to get diluted. It’s going to get lost. It’s going to be harder to notice.

So be very cautious about how you go about ascertaining what is necessary for your legal letters.  A lot of us err on the side of writing more rather than less.

That happens for a few different reasons, but often it’s because we convince ourselves that we need to say everything that went into the process of getting to the conclusion that is being communicated in our letter, and that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes it is, but not always. So ensure that as you write your legal letter you are constantly referring back – what was the point, and is the necessary to make it?

If your primary point is getting diluted because you’re including too much information, then consider what actually needs to be included versus doesn’t need to be included.

4. Put the Legal Letter Down (or else!)

The fourth thing I want to encourage you to do today is to put the letter down.

After you’ve written it, don’t just put it into the mail or hand it up to your partner for signing or something. Put it down for half an hour (unless it’s urgent, obviously). Put it down and think about other things for a time.

Then come back to it. Reread it.

This is where you will catch the typos. That is where you will catch these issues that have crept in that are diluting your point. This is where you will catch those redundant phrases that we so happily and automatically put into letters like, “we note that,” and “we advise that”.  This is where you’ll notice all the Latin that you’ve flung onto the page with wild abandon.

So for all these reasons, what you need to do after you have written your letter is you need to put it down.

Let your brain occupy itself with something else, and then come back fresh if at all humanly possible.  Reread your letter word for word, referring always back to the point.

Ask yourself some basic questions:

  • What was the point?
  • Have you made the point?
  • Have you given them something to go away with that they actually have to do?

5. What’s the Next Step?

And that leads us in nicely to the last thing – what has your letter concluded with?

If the letter hasn’t concluded with something that you want the other person to do, then you need to consider whether you’ve actually achieved the purpose.

If you want information and you start the letter with that point in mind, it’s good to tie the letter off at the other end with that in mind as well.

As if with anything, if you want to demand something, or want someone to respond, then put a time frame on it for a response.

Some people would term this a “call to action” – which is mostly a marketing term, but fits the situation well. What, precisely, do you want to happen when the person (hopefully) finishes reading your letter.

That way they know what it is you want them to do, and you can put in your diary to follow them up.

So that’s my five fairly straightforward ways that you can improve your letter writing out of sight, very simply, by following those five steps.

Your Turn

If you’ve got any other tips, let us know in the comments. Otherwise, that’s it for today.

Happy Lawyering!

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