What Are They and Why Should Lawyers Bother with Them?
In the Claims world, we love closure letters. Unfortunately, we rarely see them in the files – perhaps that is because attorneys who send closure letters may not be sued as much as those who do not send closure letters! When we use the term, “closure letter” we are referring to a letter that the attorney sends the client at the conclusion of the matter on which the attorney has assisted the client. The closure letter can take many forms.
Many attorneys have misconceptions about closure letters. Attorneys want clients to consider the attorney as “their attorney” so that the next time the client has legal work, the client will automatically call that attorney. We have worked with attorneys who deliberately did not send a closure letter because they wanted the client to think of the attorney for future work and were afraid the closure letter will send a message that the attorney is completely through with the client and never wants to see the client again. Instead, the client forgot what the attorney told him or her and later sued claiming the client believed the attorney was going to do something wholly outside the scope of the original representation. With no closure letters, the claim can turn into a he-said-she-said litigated matter.
We would suggest that contrary from giving the client a “never contact me again” idea, a closure letter can be one of your best marketing tools and can further prevent — or assist in defending — a malpractice claim. If the attorney re-frames the closure letter in terms of a thank-you letter, far from offending the client, it can convey the message that the attorney has appreciated the client and looks forward to working with the client again on future matters.
An advantage in a ‘thank you for your business’ letter is that the attorney can set out the firm’s file retention policy. This will give the client notice of the file retention policy such that when the appropriate amount of time has passed, the file can be destroyed, and the attorney does not need to track down the client years later to get permission to destroy the file.
Another advantage is that the date of the closure letter is a bright-line date from which the statute of limitations may start running. It is also an excellent spot in which to provide a brief summary of the work the attorney performed for the client and a statement that the work is now complete. This leaves little room for ambiguity a few years later in case the client believes the attorney is going to follow up on something. For attorneys who work in areas affected by tax law, the closure letter is an excellent tool to remind the client that tax laws change. For attorneys who work in litigation, the closure letter can be an excellent tool to confirm who is responsible for any unknown liens and to remind the client to consult with attorneys as to potential tax implications of settlements. For attorneys who work with business clients, a closure letter can be an excellent tool to clearly state who is responsible for business filings, corporate records, etc. A closure letter is a service to your client in clarifying the work and what, if anything, the client needs to think about in the future. Client’s memories fade and the letter is a useful tool in keeping the record straight.
So, for 2020, we would suggest a New Year’s resolution to send closure letters in all client files!
Authored by: Stacey Smith Claims Manager
Stacey K. Smith received her B.A. from Montana State University and her J.D. from Willamette University College of Law. She is a member of the Washington State Bar Association. Prior to joining ALPS in October 1999, Stacey spent over five years litigating major damage cases in both state and federal court. She served on the Washington State Bar Professionalism Committee, the Washington State Bar Court Rules and Procedures Committee and the Washington State Bar Ad Hoc Committee on Civility.