Legal English Writing Skills:
How do I write a professional letter?
Learn how to write a professional letter with the experts in English language for Lawyers.
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While the art of letter writing is waning for many users of English, competent lawyers still spend a significant amount of time writing them. Whether it is by e-mail or on paper, there are certain linguistic and style rules that professionals should follow to present the best image of themselves and their company. In this article, we look at how you can improve your legal English writing skills.
Register of the language
The way you write your letter depends on the recipient. If you are writing to a client, the style remains formal but with non-legal vocabulary used as far as you are able to. If you are writing to the court or a fellow lawyer, there will be more legalese and the style will be considerably more formal.
Salutation and Sign-off
If you are writing to a lawyer at a law firm, lawyers typically begin by writing "Dear Sirs" and ending their letter with "Yours faithfully". While this may seem rather sexist, and there have been moves to change this rather old-fashioned way of addressing letters, for the moment it is the normal way of beginning a letter. 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, you should use "Dear Mr..." or "Dear Mrs..." (unless you know them well - in which case use the first name) and end the letter with "Yours sincerely". This would be done specifically with letters to clients or other interested individuals rather than individual lawyers working at law firms.
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. A typical letter might begin with "We write in reference to the letter of X in which you made a request for a meeting at the earliest possible date."
These will contain the main body of the letter and for reasons of space we cannot answer you in detail here. The tone will depend on whether you wish to ask questions, whether you are answering them or a mixture of both. 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."
Succeed in Legal English Writing
Writing a letter is something that lawyers always believe that they can do well, but our tutors so often see letters filled with grammar errors, poor choice of vocabulary, complicated structure or confusing register. By hiring an experienced teacher in Legal English, you will learn how to spot your errors.
Legal English UK runs Legal English Language 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.