How To Draft A Letter For Your LPC Supervising Solicitor
Drafting a legal letter is not as simple as it appears and involves numerous considerations prior to beginning to put words on the page. Of paramount importance is the issue of Client Care particularly to ensure that the requirements of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct in that respect are met.
There are numerous reasons or purposes behind a letter being required but by following the points raised it will ensure that it will be professional, helpful, meet its requirements or purpose but above all ensure that the requirements of client care are met and the provisions of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct and statutory requirements satisfied.
- Purpose - Consideration of the purpose of the letter is paramount because it serves as the foundation for all other considerations that may be different for each purpose. There are also several purposes that a letter covers; Information, guidance or requests are just three examples.
- Audience - The reader is important because this governs the tone and language that the letter should contain. A client would not understand complex legal issues or legal language as would a judge or fellow legal professional. The needs or requirements of a client will normally be different from those of the said judge or legal professional.
- Structure - Clarity and brevity require that every word used in the letter must have a purpose. The reader may be a very busy legal professional or a confused, worried or angry client and the content of the letter must meet their needs in as clear and concise way as possible.
The layout of the letter must ensure that it conveys a professional approach, is neat and in a structured order. There is no standard layout per se as each practice will have an individual house style based around the practice headed paper but there are some basic rules that should be followed.
- Tone - The tone of the letter must be balanced and in keeping with the subject that it covers. Some matters may require a firm tone or send a sense of urgency, for example where information or documents are required to meet a specific deadline. Other letters may command a need for sympathy, for example when dealing with probate or sensitive family matters.
- Accuracy - This is a letter from a legal professional therefore any legal content must be completely correct and up to date. Whether criminal, civil, statutory or common the law is such a dynamic entity that can so quickly be out of date. For example, the elements of a criminal offence can very quickly change through the decision of the Court of Appeal or an offence can be completely abolished by the enactment of secondary legislation. The effect of including out of date legal issues in a letter can not only be detrimental to the case in hand but to the client and the reputation of the firm. There can also be implications under the Solicitors Code of Conduct.
The letter should be free from spelling or grammar mistakes therefore it is vital that it is proof read carefully. A letter containing such inaccuracies only serves to project an image of the firm as being unprofessional, sloppy or simply bad. Equally where a letter contains financial information, whether it is for billing/fee purposes or quoting potential damages amounts, an error can have far reaching effects for both the firm and the client either through loss of monies or provision of false hope.
- Client Care – Although this is the last point in this list it is arguably the most important aspect. The Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007 requires that this is paramount at all times. There are also statutory requirements, for example where a case includes contingency fees this must be declared and explained to the client.
A lay client may primarily only be interested in whether they have a case and if they have a good prospect of winning whereas a legal professional will have other requirements, for example clarification of a legal point. Whomever the letter is for, the issue of client care and adherence to the Code of Conduct are paramount. Rule 1 of the Code provides the Core Duties that are required and are the fundamental rules of practise therefore they will dictate a large proportion of what must be included in the letter. However, in this respect, the Civil Procedure Rules will equally have bearing where they dictate through such things as Pre-Action Protocols or the Criminal Procedure Rules in respect of such matters as, for example, disclosure.
Rules 2.02 Client Care and 2.03 Information about Cost are the primary sources to be aware of, additionally there is also a Law Society Practice note regarding Client Care letters that should be referred to.