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How to structure your letter of advice

How to structure your letter of advice

By Law Institute of Victoria

Communication Documents Practice & Procedure 

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Providing clear, accessible and well-reasoned advice to clients is a critical skill for legal practitioners. There is a range of things you need to consider when planning and writing a letter of advice, but structure is key.

Having a clear purpose statement, a logical sequence of points and a powerful conclusion will take your drafting skills to the next level. Here are five key tips for structuring your letter of advice.

1. Start with a summary

Unless your letter is very short (less than a full A4 page), include a summary that states the purpose of your letter of advice, even if it’s just one sentence long. This will ensure the reader knows exactly what your conclusions are, and will read the advice through the lens of that understanding.

2. Present the problem and a range of potential solutions

Make sure the client knows that you understand the problem, and whether you are making any assumptions (more in point #4). Similar to an academic paper, you should succinctly demonstrate your understanding of the issue and the range of potential solutions before settling on what you propose is the right solution for the client. This lets the client know you are not being narrow-minded in your approach and that you have considered many possible avenues before landing on the best one.

3. Choose the best solution and provide step-by-step actions to take

Once you have determined what you think is the right course of action for the client, make it clear why you are confident this is the right solution. Outline your proposal step by step, using relevant examples and supporting case law that show your legal knowledge in a practical way.

4. Make it clear if you are making assumptions or need further information

If more information is needed, or if you have made assumptions in your letter of advice, make it clear in your letter what information you will require as a next step. In particular, if you think there are some questions the client has not asked that they should, or issues they have not raised that you think are pertinent, it is important to identify these in your letter of advice.

5. Tell the truth, even if it is not what the client wants to hear

No one likes to be the messenger when the news isn't positive, but sometimes that is part of our role as lawyers. The last thing a person with legal issues needs is someone to sugar-coat the facts. Just like doctors, lawyers can hone their "bedside manner" through a letter of advice, making sure to present the facts honestly while still using tactful language that won't turn the client off from using your services.

 

If you need more practical tips about writing a letter of advice, register for our upcoming Advice Writing workshop on Wednesday 21 March. This workshop will cover a range of topics such as how to take instructions, identify legal issues, define the scope of legal advice and deal with assumptions and disclaimers. You'll also learn more about the appropriate structure and format for a letter of advice, as well as critical issues to be aware of such as accuracy, limitations of actions and privilege.

 


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