Last year the legal service regulators commissioned joint research with the Legal Services Consumer Panel to understand how consumers engage with Client Care Letters, with a view to improving their effectiveness. You can read the full report here. The Research into Client Care Letters showed that there was plenty of room for improvement.
The independent researchers have recommended eight key principles for preparing effective Client Care Letters. They are:
- Show a clear purpose – provide the purpose of the letter and the importance of reading it upfront;
- Keep it concise – recognise that the ideal length is 1-2 pages. If this is not feasible, use short sentences, bullet points and headings to break the information up;
- Put it in plain English – avoid using legal terms, archaic or complex language. Minimise the use of vague and / or heavily caveated sentences;
- Prioritise information – focus on the information which is perceived to be most relevant to the consumer and ensure a logical flow;
- Personalise information – provide details on the consumer’s specific case, for example, their estimated costs and not general estimated costs. Tailor the letter so that irrelevant information is excluded. Use personal pronouns so it is clear you are talking to the individual;
- Make it easy to read – Use line spacing and a large font size (minimum size 12). Use headings to make the letter easy to navigate and avoid dense paragraphs;
- Highlight key information – Use visual tools such as bold text, headers, summary boxes, tables or diagrams, to make it easier for consumers to pick out key points; and
- Consider additional opportunities to engage clients – Finally, while there should be a clear reference to the complaints procedure in the Client Care Letters, consider whether more detailed coverage is better delivered in separate leaflets; or whether reminders could be sent later on in the legal process, to ensure that this information was understood.
It is obvious from the report that more needs to be done to use plain English in our legal writing and to make sure that we are understood.