At Maguire Family Law, our inspiration for topics to blog about comes from all sources. In this case, it comes from an Instagram post by Art UK featuring the painting “The Letter Writer” by John Templeton Lucas. Along with the image, they commented that the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, was issued on this day in 1840. That of course got us thinking about how communication has changed over the years.
What do we sent by post
As much as we always try to come up with innovative solutions to the question of handover (where a child moves from the care of one parent to the other), I do not think that any of us would ever have suggested a solution which was legal in America until 1913 – sending children via parcel post.
There are examples, however, where a solicitors’ letter is an important feature of our job.
The Family Procedure Rules set out the methods by which formal court documents can be officially served on the other party. The rules set out in the first instance that an application may be served by personal service (i.e. by a person taking the application to the respondent and leaving it with the respondent) or by first class post (or other service which provides for delivery on the next business day).
In the vast majority of cases, it is not necessary to go to the expense of arranging for personal service (although some specific court applications require it). Instead, where matters are being dealt with amicably and / or both parties are represented, serving papers by post is the norm.
The use of emails
Whilst the postal service has its role to play where formal service is required, much of our day to day written communication is conducted by email. This ensures that clients are provided promptly with advice on the progress of their case. It also streamlines the process where, for example, correspondence needs to be sent to more than one person (i.e. the same thing has to be sent to both the court and the other party to a case).
Importantly, it is part of our service pledge to ensure that we communicate with clients in the way that best suits them. Although we perhaps default to email as the form of communication with our clients, we recognise that that is not the most appropriate way to communicate with every client. We therefore do everything we can to tailor our services to your needs and preferences.
When the Penny Black was introduced, the charge for a standard letter was 4d. This would be approximately £1.51 in today’s money. This compares to a standard Royal Mail first class stamp at 70p.
The cost of stamps, envelopes etc is one which we absorb as an overhead of the business. However, a lot of our clients ask us about how they are charged for the correspondence we prepare. We are always transparent with our clients from the outset that any written communication (whether by email or letter) is charged in the same way i.e. taking into account how long it has taken us to prepare that piece of correspondence.
Time is of the essence
When considering post as the method of communication, it is not only cost that is taken into account, it is also the length of time that correspondence takes to arrive at its destination. When it was first introduced, transatlantic post took months and writers could never be certain if letters could reach their final destinations. Sometimes, writers would send multiple copies of letters via different ships in the hope that this would increase the chances of the correspondence arriving.
At Maguire Family Law, we advise clients all over the world and put bluntly, if we had to rely on that level of postal service, we simply would not be able to provide an efficient service. The use of email and Skype telephone calls has increased the ease with which we can communicate with and advise our clients, wherever they are in the world.
What did you say?
Whether we are writing to our client, to the other party or to the court, the way in which we write does not change. That’s true of whether we’re writing an email or sending a letter. We all take into account key principles of clear legal writing and avoid the use of jargon wherever possible.
However, for some of our clients, we do notice that the form of communication does have a bearing on what is said. We see cases every week where clients have perhaps communicated with their former partner by telephone, text message of WhatsApp and matters have become increasingly heated between them because of what is being said in such an instantaneous form of communication. There are also numerous headlines in the news where celebrities going through breakups have perhaps made ill-advised comments on social media, which have also had an instant impact and inflamed the situation.
At Maguire Family Law, we would always advise our clients to step back and think about what they are saying and what they want to achieve in communicating with their ex. Ultimately, it is not about point scoring and getting a particularly pithy comment into your communication; it is about being able to separate with dignity and, particularly if there were children involved, to be able to communicate and work together moving forwards.
A number of our clients have thanked us for suggesting that they set out their initial thoughts in an email and save it to their drafts to sleep on overnight, only to realise in the morning that the email was perhaps not the right thing to send. Of course, writing a letter encourages further reflection and contemplation, particularly if it is one which is handwritten. Coupled with this, is the walk to the Post Office to send the letter and knowing that it will take time to reach the other person.
The power of an envelope
Whether it’s a birthday card or council tax bill, many of us still think there’s something special about receiving correspondence through the post. In my case, 14 years on, I still remember the envelope containing my offer of a training contract arriving through the letter box and the reassurance from my mum that only an acceptance letter would come in such a thick envelope.
At Maguire Family Law, we think carefully before hitting send on an email or putting a stamp on the envelope. For a lot of people, there may be a certain level of fear associated with receiving a solicitors’ letter.
We are mindful of the fact that we want our correspondence to be received in the best way possible. This means not underestimating the potential impact of informing someone that their spouse wishes to file for divorce and taking into account if / when a letter sent by post will arrive. If at all possible, we try to avoid correspondence arriving when the children are spending time with the receiving parent, just before a holiday abroad or when the receiving person wouldn’t have ready access to legal advice (i.e. before a weekend / bank holiday).
Effective communication is one of the fundamental principles of being a solicitor. Whether it is being able to show your empathy towards a client, persuade the judge at court or resolve matters productively with your opponent, what we say and how we say it is at the forefront of everything that we do.
When it comes to written correspondence, we are happy to hear from you in any way you feel most comfortable –
- our WhatsApp number, telephone number and main email address are all set out above along with links to our various social media channels
- our personal email addresses are on our profile pages,
- our postal address and contact from are on the contact us page.
We look forward to hearing from you in relation to any family law query you may have.