44(0) 20 3573 0182
One of the biggest issues that we encounter with our Legal English students is that their letter-writing skills are not up to scratch. While it is true that in everyday life we are writing fewer and fewer letters, lawyers and legal secretaries still write many letters to clients, so we have put together this short lesson to teach you how to write a letter to a British recipient.
If you are writing to a fellow legal practitioner, you can use more "legalese", but if you are writing to a client then the style of your letter will take a different slant. For this example, we shall assume that you are writing to a layman (a non-lawyer).
Salutation and Sign-off
Although it seems incredibly sexist, if you are writing to a business you should begin by writing "Dear Sirs" and end your letter with "Yours faithfully". If there is a reference, you should mention that at the top of your letter. If there is not, then you should mark the letter "For the Attention of..." just before your salutation.
If you know the name of the person that you are writing to, use "Dear Mr..." or "Dear Mrs...", and sign-off the letter with "Yours sincerely".
The first paragraph in a formal English letter is used as a brief introduction. You might wish to thank the person you are writing to for a previous letter, or you may simply wish to introduce yourself and explain why you are writing.
This will contain the main body of the letter, and clearly we cannot answer you in detail here. The tone will depend on whether you wish to ask questions or whether you are answering them. There are a range of possibilities, but please remember to use formal English with discourse markers where necessary.
To close the letter, you should state when you expect to receive a reply from your correspondent. You might also wish to offer an opportunity to talk about the situation by telephone or face-to-face. A letter traditionally closes like this:
"We look forward to hearing from you in due course/at the earliest opportunity."
Writing a letter is something that everybody thinks they can do well, but the sad fact is that most letters we see are littered with grammar errors, are too formal or just impossible to understand. Work on your Legal English writing skills with a tutor or a native English speaker and make sure that you stand out from those who think that writing a letter is not a skill that is needed.
Legal English UK runs Legal English Courses for competent lawyers and TOLES students as well as classes in writing in Legal English. Contact us using the form on this page, or telephone us on 020 3566 0145. We can also be found via e-mail.