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A Lawyer's Guide to Writing an Effective Letter - ThinkstockPhotos-148662432-c.jpg

A lawyer’s guide to writing an effective letter

When Hollywood celebrities get caught with their “hand in the cookie jar” (double-euphemism alert), one of the first calls many of them make is to entertainment lawyer Marty Singer. Since it’s Singer’s job to nip the story in the bud, media-wise, as quickly as possible, he contacts publications or stations that are believed to be ready to run the story, and calmly explains why it’s in their best interest to rethink that proposition. Ha ha. That’s an inside joke. Singer doesn’t “calmly explain”anything. Sometimes he phones, but it’s his bombastic, bomb-throwing letters that are legendary and are primarily responsible for Singer being known as the “Pit bull to the stars.”

A letter that he wrote in 2010 to The Hollywood Reporter found its way online, and in its 2 ½ single-spaced pages, it mentioned “defamatory” or “defamation”10 times, “malice” or malicious” five,  “false,”  “blatantly false,” or some variation about a dozen, and assorted references to “smear,” “character assassination” and “slander/slanderous.” What these letters ain’t is “subtle.” What they are is “effective.” What you don’t know about A-list celebrities due to Singer’s blistering missives could fill, well, a tabloid detailing embarrassing celebrity behavior.

So, it’s clear that pre-emptive letters from attorneys can be marvelously effective tools to garner quick results and short-circuit prolonged legal proceedings. (Ironically, since Marty Singer charges by the hour, when one of his letters quickly quells publication of a story, he earns less money).

So what elements constitute an effective letter? To wit:

  1. Timing  Letters have a better chance of succeeding before too much damage has been done, passions rise, or the parties involved get too vested in prevailing. Before the horse is out of the barn, as Matlock might so “folksily” put it.

  2. Professional formatting/good grammar/spelling  Yes, yes. Should be obvious. But in this day and age, unfortunately must be included.

  3. Concise summary of the issue at hand  A nice, clear recitation of the nature of the matter, avoiding mind-numbing legal jargon as long as possible. It’s OK to sound like a human being. At least, at first.

  4. Why your client was wronged — Well, you obviously can’t leave this part out, so let’s move on.

  5. What compensation would be fair to your client  For physical, emotional, psychic, metaphysical damage. Shoot for the moon, but attempt a tone of restraint.

  6. How you wish to right the wrong peaceably, quickly and in a civilized manner   not looking for a fight, after all.

  7. What will happen if it’s not — This is where you can go all “Marty Singer” on them.

  8. Put in lots of *%$# and $@!% — If you are Marty Singer. (Just kidding, Marty!)

  9. A call to action  A deadline to respond, basically.

  10. Sign-off You’re still effecting an air of cordiality here, remember.

There you have it. All you need now is someone on the other side who still reads letters, and you’re set.

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