Don’t underestimate the importance of your engagement letter as both a legal and marketing document. Because if prospects aren’t comfortable with your agreement, they may not sign it — and all your prior marketing efforts have been for naught. You want prospects to welcome your engagement letter because their signature on your agreement allows you to start working on their behalf.
How To Write Your Engagement Letter
STEP #1: Use an engagement letter rather than a contract because a letter is seen as personal, where prospects often perceive a contract as cold and impersonal.
STEP #2: Write the way you talk. Word your agreement so its tone is consistent with the tone you use in conversation.
STEP #3: Write to one person, “you.” For marketing purposes, write in the second person, to “you” the reader. Your engagement letter is a letter to you (the client), from me, (your lawyer). When you emphasize the you-and-me nature of your engagement letter, you reinforce the fact that you and your client are on the same side working toward the desired result.
STEP #4: Use active verbs, not passive verbs. Write with enthusiasm. Change: “If you are interested in hiring me” (passive) — to “If you want to hire me” (active). Change: “The lawsuit will be filed today” (passive) — to “I will file your lawsuit today” (active). Choose active voice to keep your reader alert and actively involved with your message.
STEP #5: Choose short, simple words. Write your marketing documents at the sixth grade level because short words are powerful. Even the best-educated people don’t resent simple words. But simple words are the only words many people understand. Even if you have to substitute three or four short words for one long word, you’re usually wise to do so.
STEP #6: Keep sentences short. Short sentences are easier to read and understand than long sentences. Nothing turns people off faster than long, complex sentences. When you’re writing to sophisticated prospects, keep your sentences between 15 and 20 words. For less sophisticated prospects, shorten sentences to 10 to 15 words. These numbers are averages. Some sentences will be longer, some will be shorter.
STEP #7: Keep paragraphs short. Try to keep paragraphs no longer than five lines of type. Not five sentences, but five lines. No reader likes to pick up any document and see a huge block of black print staring him in the face. If a paragraph is longer than five lines, try to break it into two shorter paragraphs. Also, vary your paragraph length. Follow a two- or three-line paragraph with a four- or five-line paragraph.
STEP #8: Don’t use fine print. Small print creates the impression that you’re hiding something. Prospects feel more comfortable when you use large print in easy-to-read fonts. A one-page contract of fine print arouses much more suspicion than a two-page agreement where the type is large and easy to read.
STEP #9: Use white space to your advantage. Make sure your engagement letter is pleasing to the eye. Leave adequate margins around the page. And insert at least one line of white space between paragraphs.
STEP #10: Start each paragraph that begins a new topic with a bold heading. A paragraph topic heading makes it easy for your prospect to find what he’s looking for. It makes your engagement letter look easy to read and easy to understand.
STEP #11: When possible, avoid complex engagement letters for simple matters. Several years ago I hired an out-of-state lawyer. During the hiring process, I interviewed more than a dozen lawyers by telephone. One lawyer sent me a 12-page agreement. I concluded this lawyer was my adversary, not my ally. Another lawyer I spoke with — and the one I hired — sent a two-paragraph letter of understanding. I signed and returned the letter with my check and he did an excellent job.
STEP #12: Make sure your engagement letter looks crisp and clean. If you have a sharp, clean agreement, prospects expect your work will also be crisp and clean. Print a new, fresh laser copy for each client.
What To Include In Your Engagement Letter
STEP #13: Don’t skimp on facts. If you expect your prospect to sign your engagement letter, you need to provide answers to your prospect’s questions. You’re in a stronger position when you discuss issues and concerns in your engagement letter. If your client has a problem and feels stressed, he might not remember what you say. You protect yourself and your client from faulty memories when you put key facts and important points in your engagement letter.
STEP #14: Explain what you will do. List the specific services you will provide — or the services you might provide — depending on the type and progress of the case. Draft your engagement letter following the Value/Price Equation, which says:
Prospects will hire your services as long as they believe the value they receive from you is (1) greater than the fee they pay, and (2) greater than the value they would receive from another lawyer for the same fee.
In your engagement letter, show your value by listing the services you will provide — before you disclose the fee your client will pay for those services.
STEP #15: Explain what you expect your client to do. Whenever possible, explain things from a positive point of view. Explain what your client needs to do and how those steps will help you get a better result.
STEP #16: Explain anything that your client might perceive as negative. When possible, describe negatives in a positive light. If your agreement contains things your prospect might view in a negative way, explain in your engagement letter why you include those terms.
STEP #17: Explain how to approach a problem. Tell your prospect that you want the opportunity to address his concerns before they turn into problems. Invite your prospect to talk with you anytime he has concerns about you, your services, your employees or his case.
STEP #18: Proofread your engagement letter several times. Your engagement letter is the first example of your work that your prospect sees. Make sure it represents your best work.
How To Present Your Engagement Letter
— If before your first meeting: Send your educational marketing materials, including your engagement letter, to your client and ask him to review everything before your first meeting. With your engagement letter, include a handout that explains each paragraph and puts your prospect’s mind at ease, just as you would do during an in-person meeting.
— If during your first meeting: Show your engagement letter to your prospect and explain each paragraph so you put your prospect’s mind at ease. The longer you keep your engagement letter hidden, the longer your prospect might worry about it.
When Referring To Your Engagement Letter
— Promote your client-friendly engagement letter as one advantage of hiring your services.
— Emphasize that your engagement letter reflects how your client and you have agreed to work together and what each of you will do.
— Refer to your engagement letter as a standard form agreement and imply that prospects routinely sign it without objection, almost as a formality.
— If you offer an escape clause, emphasize how easily your prospect can cancel your agreement. Your prospect feels more at ease and in control when he has the power to end your relationship.
— Explain that your engagement letter protects both your client and you from misunderstandings.
When you use proven marketing principles to create your engagement letter, you help turn a potential obstacle into a powerful, persuasive marketing piece. Plus, when your prospect reviews an agreement that’s easy to read and understand, his fears melt away, your credibility soars and you win a new client.