I didn’t do as much witness work for my legal clients during 2005–6 and I was interested to see from a former client a letter from a large New Zealand law ﬁrm’s partner. I won’t reveal any speciﬁc information, of course, but let’s say it’s from a ﬁrm I did have some dealings against in the 1990s and I considered their statement of defence pretty amateur. I have considered their marketing to be very amateur, too—all style and no substance.
Or perhaps their brand or marketing consultant actually did a perfect job—they expressed the ﬁrm honestly and accurately.
The letter, with all the Our refs and jargon, lacks a salutation. There is no Dear or even an Attention: it launches straight in to the correspondence.
This may be very nice for text messaging but it has no place in what is considered acceptable commercial correspondence.
Perhaps once texting, or some evolution of it, becomes the dominant form of communication—which places us roughly between grunting and Morse code—then business correspondence may evolve toward the demise of the salutation.
Until then, this merely illustrates the arrogance of the legal profession and how it has fallen even further out of step with its clientèle.
Lawyers need to remember they represent certain parties and that those parties—the ones that pay their bills—have brands that need to be protected, not destroyed through callousness.
The effects on culture are wide-reaching. Imagine singing the song ‘Dear John’ without the words Dear John. It kind of sucks with the lyric-free bits in the verses.
How about answering a phone without a ‘Hello’?
When I relayed this to one regular client, a practising attorney who is around my age, he was surprised. He has received such letters, too, but he agrees with me on this topic.
There is what some people call a simpliﬁed letter, where there may be no salutation and the words Attention: Dispatch Department (for instance) may take its place. These are acceptable—just—when the recipient is unlikely to be known by the writer, but I have always adopted a Ladies and Gentlemen in such cases.
I realize that the niceties of I remain or even Your loyal and humble servant have disappeared in New Zealand but this development of the missing salutation is worrisome.
At best it is disrespectful to the recipient, which may be what the law ﬁrm wanted to convey—but disrespecting others is merely a sign of an absence of self-respect, showing that the ﬁrm itself is without merit.
Yet the writer of this letter has not forgotten his valediction—I imagine he has retained it because that way he can put his own name down the bottom and see it in print.
After all, with no salutation, surely there is no need for a valediction? My most casual emails, where I am ﬁring off an internal memo or a quick response to some people, do lack both. I simply end the text with an em dash and my initials and I encourage some members of my team to do the same.
Commerce does not function with people acting selﬁshly. It only works with mutual respect—and that includes people who may disagree with one another.
So, for all those who have forgotten the components of an acceptable letter in modern business practice, here is a link. It is not geared to a general audience, nor do I agree with all of it, but following its components will certainly present a letter which hides how years of law school and legal practice have failed various members of the profession. Posted by Jack Yan, 04:15
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