44(0) 20 3566 0145
As Legal English UK is a language training company which operates worldwide, we work with lawyers and legal professionals who wish to learn both British English and American English. This means that the focus of our tutors is on the Legal English spoken by lawyers and legal professionals working in the UK, but it is useful to point out some of the differences between British English and American English, not only in a legal context but also generally.
American lawyers will use similar English to British lawyers, but there will be some highly specific differences with regards to legal correspondence; particularly with the grammar and vocabulary that one sees and sometimes in relation to style. It goes without saying that if you are working from the UK, you should use British English throughout your correspondence, but if you have been brought up using American English you should apply it consistently, rather than drift between the two. This looks haphazard and unprofessional.
In a British English letter, the date is written "20 September 2014". In the States, your correspondent will write it: "September 20 2014". This might seem like a small issue, but it might upset a British person if you write the date a different way!
In the UK, we will invariably start a letter with "Dear.." followed by a comma or nothing. In the US, the writer can use this option or can simply use the person's name or the word "Gentlemen" instead of "Dear Sirs", or "Ladies" rather than "Dear Mesdames". They can also follow this with a colon ":".
While the Brits are fond of prepositions, Americans use them far less. Where we would say "Monday through until Friday", an American would say "Monday through Friday".
We simply do not have the space to list all the vocabulary differences between American English and British English. In some cases, the words are just spelt differently (colour and color) whilst in others they are completely different (car bonnet and hood). Check your dictionary if you are unsure of whether to use a particular word, but a British person will probably know an American word (although it might not work in the other direction).
Generally speaking, a formal letter in the UK ends with "Yours faithfully" and an informal one with "Yours sincerely". In the US, "Sincerely" or "Sincerely yours" are used for formal correspondence and "Yours truly" or "truly yours" will be used for informal correspondence. This is also a very important point as in the UK, "yours truly" is seen as rather child-like.