If you feel wronged and considered filing a small claim, a legal letter is often the best first step. A legal letter outlines the wrong committed and a remedy to right the wrong. Look to it as a negotiator. The aim is to mediate and avoid having to take legal action. The offended party often finds it hard to remain objective when authoring the letter. For this reason, they get the letter from attorney firms. Some also find it hard to articulate what they want to say or don’t have the time to say it. We here at Smiley Law Firm write these letters every day.
In this blog, we’ll go over everything you need to know about legal letters.
Types of Legal Letters
In the legal world, there is a letter for every situation. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll list the legal letter people request the most.
- Demand Letters. These letters require the recipient to take an action in a specified time period. An example of this is a 5-Day Pay or Vacate (5-Day Notice) letter given to delinquent tenants. The letter outlines the violation, the remedy, and the time allotted for said remedy. Demand letters warn of legal action should the remedy go unfulfilled. It essentially states a legal claim.
- Breach of Contract Letter. A Breach of Contract Letter outlines a broken agreement from a previously enforced contract. The letter highlights what they’re in violation of, and usually offers a way of handling the breach. Should the violations continue, a demand letter is usually the next step before legal proceedings – but not always.
- Promissory Note (Loan Agreement). You’ve heard this term a time or two if you’ve watched People’s Court or Judge Judy. A promissory note outlines the promise of one party to pay the other. This letter contains repayment terms, due date, reason, and signatures. Promissory notes are also useful in cases of service for later pay.
- Offer of Settlement. This letter does exactly what it implies. It outlines a settlement offer to avoid legal action. The recipient receives the settlement offer by mail or by hand in mediation. Once accepted, the parties sign the letter. It is now considered a new contract. Debt collectors receive many of these letters and won’t usually sign them, but will acknowledge them instead by return letter.
Some choose to write their own legal letters but often have lawyers to comb over them. It’s often more cost-effective (and more effective at the end) to get a letter from attorney firms. We write these all day and we know what to say. Not to mention, consultation is usually much higher than a flat fee letter.
Legal Letter Costs
The cost often depends on the lawyer you choose and what type of letter you need. Some lawyers charge by the hour. Some charge consultation plus the cost of the letter. Others charge hourly to draft and mail the letter. We at the Smiley Law Firm charge a flat rate fee that only covers the letter.
In my opinion, flat fees are the best way to handle initial letter drafting. Most clients like to have an idea of what they’re expected to spend on letters from an attorney. These include the above-listed letters as well as legal opinion letters, advanced attorney letters, and demand letters.
Before spending money on a lawyer to write your letter, know exactly what you want in it. This information guides the lawyer to the kind of letter you need and the content to add in.
Writing Your Own Legal Letter
Follow the below-listed steps to make your letter legally enforceable.
- Summary. In this section, you’ll identify yourself and explain why you’re writing the letter. Include pertinent information about damages and a quick summary of injuries – if it applies. This section can be short, but it can also be long and detailed depending on the facts. Be sure to let your lawyer know if you prefer a short to the point letter, or a long and detailed letter.
- Background Information. This section should explain the relationship between the disputing parties. A brief background for some context is always helpful. This way, all parties know the reasoning behind the dispute. Content in this section also includes a chronological or historical account of background.
- Facts. This is the who, what, where, when, and why. Make sure to include as many facts and details as possible in this section so that all parties fully understand the dispute. Include only relevant facts in this section. Most good writers will tell you that less is more. It’s also worth noting that the demand really takes shape when facts and law combine.
- Claim for Damages. This section outlines injuries or damages incurred because of the incident. It’s important to note here that damages and injuries aren’t always physical – they also include financial losses. Include how much harm you endured as a result of the damage or injury. This amount includes attorney fees, costs or other damage associated with the claim.
- Demand. The last and most important section explains what action you are demanding from the other party. This section includes a deadline (typically 2-3 weeks) for a response. If there is no response, you can move to the next legal step available. The deadline is key here and you don’t want to say “two weeks”, instead put an exact date (May 1st), so there is no ambiguity.
Sending Your Legal Letter
Send the letter by Certified Mail so that you obtain proof that the other party received the letter. The options to send the letter include: Certified Mail, Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested and Registered Mail. Keep track of your receipt. If the other party claims they never received your letter, this receipt is evidence that they did. Trust me, this happens all the time. Somehow the other party never seems to receive any letter from attorney offices.
In many cases, courts favor United States Parcel Service or USPS (our regular mail service). The delivery methods used by USPS are typically written into the law statutes, so you are safe to use your regular mailman or post office.
Each mail service has its own specific requirements and delivery options. Some offer delivery by 12 noon next day, some offer same day delivery by 3pm, others offer delivery in three days. Added options include signature upon delivery and Certified Mail Return Receipt. With the last option, someone needs to be present to sign the Certified Mail Return Receipt. The receipt then returns to you with a signature acknowledging its acceptance.
Registered mail is the most expensive option and is similar to UPS or FedEx. You’d obtain a tracking number and the recipient signs the letter when delivered. You won’t receive a copy of the signature – since there isn’t a card in this option – but you can see the signature acknowledgment online using the tracking number.
If you want the person to receive this letter directly from your hand and acknowledge receipt – exchange it in front of a Notary. The Notary of Public acts as a witness in this situation. For this option, you’ll need two copies of the letter – one for you and one for the other party. You’ll both show the notary legal IDs proving your identities. The Notary then stamps the letters with the Notary Seal. No need for a receipt here. Simply pass this on as evidence in a court proceeding and the stamp is enough to prove the other party received it.
Be prepared in case you need to see a judge by making several copies of your letter. You will need them in court.
Receiving a Reply
So, you sent the legal letter to your intended recipient and they received it. A week later, you receive a threatening reply from him or his attorney – what do you do?
Before you reply. Consult a lawyer.
If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a legal letter (even if it’s from an attorney) have it checked by a lawyer. You wouldn’t believe how often people forge letters to inject fear when they themselves received a letter from attorney offices or a client. The best thing you could do in this situation – especially if the letter reads in a threatening way – is to have an attorney look over it. Lawyers deal with this very scenario every day, so they know exactly how to reply. You could choose the route of obtaining a consultation, where you’ll get advice on how to reply; or the lawyer can write a reply letter himself. No matter what you choose, refrain from being reactionary – it rarely ends well.
Avoid Scam Letters
A quick Google search turns up hundreds, if not thousands of websites offering legal letter templates. Some cite codes and laws to appear legal – but there’s a big difference between ‘appearing’ legal and ‘being’ legal. The only way to know if a letter is legally enforceable for sure is to consult an attorney. Some of these sites claim to have hundreds of letters written by real attorneys but won’t contain a single letter from attorney firms. A news article written by the Guardian newspaper in 2014 highlighted a company named Wonga who did just that. They sent out over 45,000 fake legal demand letters to legitimate companies posing as law firms that didn’t exist. The lesson here is consumer beware.
Keeping it Legal
Should you decide to author your own letter, have it checked by a lawyer before sending it out. Your mom, brother or best friend may offer legal advice based on hearsay, but to be on the safe side – have it checked. Certain content isn’t legally enforceable and may be illegal.
For example, you couldn’t demand 300% interest on a loan you gave out. There’s a legal cap on the amount of interest you can charge – so this wouldn’t be legal. Threats of bodily harm should the contract go unanswered is also an example of illegal content.
Other items you shouldn’t include in your legal letter are:
- Threats of any kind.
- Codes – unless advised to by a legal professional. They’re not always as straightforward as they sound.
- Disparaging language.
- Foul language.
- Personal attacks.
- Content that reads angrily. Remember, the key is to have the other party agree with your letter.
Keep the end goal in mind when drafting your legal letter. Sounding angry isn’t illegal, but it could put the recipient off agreeing to your demand. Also, should you go to court, the judge has a copy of this letter. A letter containing threats, foul language or aggression won’t show you in the best light. Stay level-headed and keep it short, concise and to the point.
There isn’t a best word-count for legal letters. Think of the white space as value – the more the better. Write just enough to cover all the facts and leave out the fluff.
Finally, although anyone can send a demand letter, many legal professionals will write a Legal Demand Letter for a flat fee. People take demand letters more seriously when written on legal letterhead. It indicates that you’ve gone through the trouble of hiring a trained, skilled attorney to fight on your behalf. When a person or company receives a lawyer letter they know the client of that lawyer is serious.
Plus, lawyers write numerous letters every day. I joke when people ask me what lawyers do all day. I just say we read and write all day long – and that’s partially true – so we’re very good at writing legal letters.
An average attorney might write five letters per day, which could include advice letters, cover letters, demand letters, reply letters, etc. To break that down, if an attorney wrote an average of five letters each day, five days a week, for fifty weeks, he or she will have written nearly 1,250 letters in a one-year period. That’s a lot of helpful experience when sending any type of attorney letter. Our experience in letter writing also warrants the hefty price tag. A letter from attorney hands contains a wealth of experience.
If you’re sitting on an important letter, contact the experienced attorneys at Smiley Law Firm today by clicking the link below – you’ll be glad you did. There is no obligation and you will get some great information.