Wisconsin Lawyer: Risk Management: Well-written Thank You Shows Courtesy:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

News & Pubs Search


    Risk Management: Well-written Thank You Shows Courtesy

    A sincere thank you letter or note is the hallmark of professionalism and helps dispel the negative stereotype of lawyers.

    Ann Massie Nelson

    Share This:

    Your mother has some risk management advice for you: Say "Thank you."

    Cynics may argue - convincingly - that mass-produced thank you notes and automated voice and email responses that begin with a cheery "thank you" have lent a hollow ring to the simple expression of gratitude.

    Ann Massie NelsonAnn Massie Nelson is a Madison writer and a public member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Communications Committee.

    On the other hand, those who remember a more genteel era - when men removed their hats during the national anthem, women went to the powder room to apply their lipstick, and children never called adults by their first name - are offended when someone doesn't say thank you.

    Social etiquette may be more relaxed these days, but business settings still call for you to be on your best behavior. Good manners are part and parcel of civility and professionalism.

    "The astute lawyer knows that it costs nothing to be nice. A sincere `please' and `thank you' go a long way toward appeasing even the most difficult client," says Sally E. Anderson, vice president of claims at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.

    Multiple Purposes

    Writing a thank you letter combined with a disengagement letter at the end of representation should be a routine part of your file closing procedure, according to Anderson.

    A thank you letter at the end of representation is the ideal way to:

    • assign an end date to your representation,

    • remind clients of any remaining actions they need to take,

    • list the original documents that you have enclosed,

    • remind clients of your file retention policy (which you should have described at the outset of representation),

    • invite clients to comment on their experience with your firm,

    • offer to be of service in the future,

    • express your gratitude for the confidence the client has placed in you.

    Besides putting the final finish on a client matter, there are other business occasions that call for a written thank you note or letter:

    • Referrals. When colleagues or clients refer potential clients to your firm, they are expressing their confidence in you and risking some of their own reputation in making the referral. Even if the potential client doesn't retain you, the affirmation of your capability calls for a thank you note.

    • Hospitality. If a professional acquaintance invites you to lunch, you can simply say "thank you." However, if a colleague or client invites you to dinner or another social occasion at his or her home or club or a restaurant, you need to write what your mother called a "bread-and-butter" note. If your spouse or companion was included, you will impress everyone by writing the note yourself instead of delegating the task to your spouse or companion.

    • Outstanding Service. Don't gush or express surprise about routine tasks done well. When people put your needs ahead of their own or go the extra mile for you, acknowledge their generosity with a thank you note.

    Thank You Writing Tips

    Here are 12 tips for crafting the business thank you letter.

    1) Use your firm's letterhead and a quality printer to print the letter. Handwritten notes on firm note cards or purchased note cards give a nice personal touch, but are not obligatory for business thank yous.

    2) For a social occasion that involved clients' or colleagues' spouses, handwrite a thank you note and mail it to their home address.

    3) Address your letter to a specific person. Take extra care to spell the recipient's name and title correctly.

    4) Refer to the reader by first name in the salutation only if you would feel comfortable greeting him or her by first name in person.

    5) Be direct. The recipient should know immediately that the purpose of your letter is to express your gratitude. If you are requesting action or a response, let the reader know in the first sentence or in the subject line.

    6) Be specific about the act that prompted your appreciation. Vague references to "good service" or "continued support" lack meaning. Recall a particular example for which you are grateful.

    7) Tell how you benefited from the reader's kindness. One sentence will suffice.

    8) Share what you expect to happen next, if anything.

    9) Close by restating your thanks.

    10) Personally sign the letter. "Dictated but not read" is inappropriate for a letter in which sincerity supersedes expediency. Signing your first name only is appropriate if you know the recipient well. Otherwise, avoid appearing chummy and sign both your first and last name.

    11) Enclose business cards if you have not met recipients in person, when presumably you would have handed them a card. Enclose another card only if you have a reason for doing so: "Our firm recently moved to a new location," or "I've enclosed an extra business card for your assistant."

    12) Print the envelope using a quality printer. Mailing labels, inkjet bar codes, and metered postage look mass produced. Keep a roll of stamps on hand for these special letters.

    What about thank you gifts? Don't give a gift when a simple, sincere expression of your gratitude will suffice. Giving the appropriate gift is challenging and may go against your or the recipient's ethics rules, Anderson says.