I love a carefully drafted demand letter. They are a great way to put the opposing party on notice that you are pursuing a claim against them, and are a low risk/low cost way to potentially resolve complex issues before having to file a formal action with the courts. That said, not all demand letters are created equally. Where a well-written demand letter can help both sides move on with their lives, a poorly written demand letter can cause unnecessary conflict that costs both parties time and money.
If you are pursuing a claim against an individual or business and are considering opening with a demand letter, I’ve put together a couple helpful pointers below to ensure that your demand letter is effective as it can be. Of course, I am also available to help you craft an effective demand letter. Whether you need a new demand letter written from scratch or seek comments/edits on a letter you already drafted yourself, contact me today to learn how St. Romain Law can help you.
Demand Letter Tips
- Address a specific individual. Do not address your demand letter to “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” It may take a little extra research to determine who is the appropriate person to send the letter to (usually the Registered Agent on file with the Secretary of State if you’re sending your letter to a business entity), but it is a critical detail that cannot be overlooked. Unless your demands are directed to a specific individual with authority to act on the letter, it’s unreasonable to expect that your letter will magically find its way to the right person or department.
- Include all the relevant facts. A good demand letter will succinctly set forth all the details and factual basis for the demand. Often, attorneys and individuals will draft a demand letter in a “stream of consciousness” style, which can cloud the message you’re trying to get across.
- Support your claim. While it’s easier to write a demand letter stating broad conclusions of the law (and facts), your message will hit home if you have supporting documents, evidence, and perhaps even some legal research to support your claim. It usually isn’t enough to simply state “You owe me $10,000 because you did X”; rather, you need to state the legal basis for your claim and let the other party know how and why they will lose if you go to court. If you don’t support your claim with evidence or legal precedent, then you are showing the reader that you are weak or not fully prepared to litigate. The time and cost that goes into a demand letter isn’t wasted if you truly plan to litigate, because that work will need to have been done anyway. Some demand letters may even include a copy of the civil complaint before you file it with the court. Of course this takes a little more time on the front-end, but if your demands go unanswered the next step is already done.
- Call to action. A good demand letter will not only state your demands, it will also give the reader a call to action. A simple example of a call to action is to require payment of X dollars by a certain date. Make the instructions for how to comply with your demands easy to understand and reasonable. You can also request a response by a certain date, which will confirm that your letter has been considered by the other side and also help open up the lines of communications for negotiations.
- Proofread and revise. Simple typos or grammatical mistakes can be fatal to your demand letter. I know that when I’m reading through a legal document, I stop paying attention to whatever it says after I encounter several typos. It’s just sloppy. You should also revise your letter several times before sending it out, and ideally have a colleague review it before sending it out. This will help keep your thoughts focused, and ensure that your letter conveys its intended message.
- Letterhead and tone. Another component of a formal demand letter is the letterhead its written on. The other party is more likely to pay attention to your requests if the letter is coming from an attorney, which makes the potential for litigation/legal action seem more real — especially if the letter is supported by a civil complaint or solid legal research. On the other hand, if you want to keep the dispute friendly, you may consider a more informal approach and try to resolve the issue on your own. Whatever the case, the tone of your demand letter can affect any future negotiations.
- Send your letter certified mail with return receipt. This will ensure that your letter has been received, and can be later used as proof in a legal proceeding that you made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute outside of court.
Every legal dispute is different, and you should know that many demands go unanswered, i.e., it’s still very likely that you will have to go to court before your issue is resolved. However, if you’re spending the time or money to send a demand letter in the first place, why not give yourself the best likelihood for success?
If you’d like to read more about writing an effective demand letter, I recommend you check out this incredibly well-researched Article by Carrie Sperling titled, Priming Legal Negotiations Through Written Demands, as well as A Shot Across the Bow: How To Write An Effective Demand Letter by Bret Rapapport.