The legal world is a confusing realm full of dusty tomes and King James-esque pronouncements. Without legal experience it is intimidating to wade into the legal mire and write your own legal demand letter. The old adage: “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client” doesn’t have to be true, so long as you take the time to properly draft a legal demand letter. NEVER send a simple: “you owe me $XX.XX now pay up” letter. Not only do these letters rarely work, but such a letter may actually preclude you from suit later on down the road.
1) The Statement of Facts
Briefly recount what led up to the legal situation at issue. This is an objective statement that does not include your opinions or facts that are irrelevant. Never make personal attacks on the opposing party, or indicate anything that an objective observer would not be able to relate.
2) The Law
One of the trickiest sections in a good legal demand letter is a discussion of the applicable law. This is hairy for people who have little to no legal experience. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t state the law correctly you should not state it at all. An even better rule is: if you can’t state the law correctly, get an attorney. The best approach is to use a free index engine, like Google Scholar, to research legal precedent from the various courts in your state. Again, if you have no legal training this can be a huge undertaking that will only do you a disservice.
What did the other person’s actions cost you? What will it take to make you whole? Sometimes the remedy isn’t money at all, but rather for a person to stop doing a specific act. Maybe they play loud music while you sleep or they have used your copyrighted images without your permission.
This is where an attorney can be vital. For example you might think you are entitled to only $1000 in damages, but an attorney will know whether statutory and other damages are applicable. Sometimes there are “treble” damages by statute, which can quickly turn that $1000 recovery into $3000. Ask an attorney if this option is available.
4) Mail the Letter
Always insure that you have proof of delivery when you mail the letter. The preferred method is certified mail with return receipt requested. This requires that the opposing party signs for the letter. The opposing party knows that you have proof that he received it. Many times the statute of limitations, as well as the amount of damages, is determined by when the opposing party received the letter.
5) Consider Hiring an Attorney
A properly drafted legal demand letter can get complicated fast. Oftentimes a single transaction can implicate many laws of which you are not aware. It also shows the other party that you’re “lawyer-ing up” in your fight to retrieve damages, and forces them to take your request seriously. However, attorneys can sometimes be expensive and cost-prohibitive. Attorneys can sometimes charge as much or more than what the opposing party owes you.
More importantly, when a legal demand letter is required by statute before suit, as it is in many cases, if you improperly draft and serve a legal demand letter you may be precluded from bringing a suit for damages at all.
6) Use a Legal Demand-Letter Writing Service
If you cannot afford to see an attorney to draft your letter, you should consider a legal demand writing service. A letter from such a service can be the best of both worlds: an actual attorney researches, drafts, and sends a letter on your behalf, but often does so for a low, flat fee (between $50 and $100). Just insure that an actual attorney is drafting and sending the letter. The letter should be on legal letterhead, and be signed by an attorney with their state bar number. It will do you no good to hire a non-attorney to write you legal demand letter because they will be as lost as you when researching your legal issue. Always insure the letter is thorough and customized to your situation, and not a mere generic template letter.