More on waffle

Pompous writing is very common among lawyers, and if you aspire to be a lawyer or to be taken seriously by lawyers it can be tempting to fall into the same bad habits. But it’s not necessary: the clue is in the word “bad.”

For example, solicitors often start letters with something like: “We write further to our letter of 15 May 2009 in relation to this matter.”

Phrases like this are just junk, cluttering the message of the letter. Let’s consider it in sections:

We write

Obviously they write! It’s a letter, after all. Did they think you might mistake it for a semaphore message if they didn’t start by telling you they were writing to you?

further to our letter of 15 May 2009

If they wrote previously on 15 May 2009, it’s obvious that this letter is ‘further’ to that letter. But what does that tell you that you didn’t know already?

in relation to

In passing – what’s wrong with “about”?

in relation to this matter

Telling you what is the ‘matter’ that is the subject of the letter is what the heading at the top of the letter is for; there’s no need to say it again in the first sentence.

It is helpful to open, “Thank you for your letter of [date],” so that the recipient knows you’ve had their last letter and that is what you are responding to. “Thank you” is just polite: no-one will think it means you are actually grateful for their letter – so there’s no need to fall over your feet distancing yourself from that idea with “I acknowledge receipt of…”

But this isn’t really a post about those two particular phrases. The point is that the message of a letter – or any other piece of writing – will be clearer if it is not all bundled up in pompous waffle.

2 Replies to “More on waffle”

  1. I agree that a lot of legal writing is pompous. However, I have relied upon “further to my letter of….” in the ET a few times as it can demonstrate the history of correspondence. It is useful in cases whereby there has been no reply to a previous letter or even if the previous letter did not require a reply as it indicates the existence of the previous letter.

    I once heard an Employment Judge comment that there must be a Royal Mail depot filled with ET 1’s given the amount of review applications of default judgments. The same may be said of legal correspondence….

  2. Thanks for the comment, but I’m sticking to my guns. The history of the correspondence is demonstrated by the sequence of letters themselves: if at any point it becomes relevant (e.g. to a costs application), what the tribunal will want to see is the letters. A line at the beginning of each one saying ‘further to my letter of [date of last letter] …’ adds nothing that isn’t demonstrated by the presence of the previous letter in the sequence, and just gives the tribunal a bit of extra reading to do.

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