Signing off in legal correspondence

We recommend formality in legal correspondence. However, it’s getting increasingly difficult to do this when English-speaking lawyers themselves seem more and more to be resorting to informality, especially in e-mails.

Basic guideline

One of the teaching points is to end correspondence with “Yours sincerely” or a similar phrase when writing to someone by name. “Yours sincerely”, “Sincerely yours” and “Sincerely” are all possible. “Yours sincerely” is the most common. “Sincerely” is one often used by lawyers.

When writing to someone without referring to them by name (e.g. “Dear Sir or Madam”), the convention in the US is to sign off with “Yours truly” (or something similar) and the convention in the UK is to sign off with “Yours faithfully” (or something similar).

Preference for “kind regards” in the Netherlands

In training dealing with legal correspondence, there has always been some resistance to this point. Almost all Dutch lawyers prefer “Kind regards” as the sign-off, even in the most formal correspondence. The main reason for this is that this wording is perceived as being similar to the common Dutch close “Met vriendelijke groet“. Naturally, Dutch legal professionals are reluctant to use a “sincerely”, “truly” or “faithfully” phrase when no one else seems to be doing it.

I have lately been noticing even more resistance to this teaching point. For example, last week a young Dutch tax lawyer who works in English a good deal said in class that his impression was that British lawyers no longer seem to be using “sincerely” or “faithfully” at all. To him, it seemed that they end all correspondence (no matter how formal with “Kind regards”, “Best regards” or a similar phrase. The implication was that the “sincerely” and “faithfully” conventions are out of date. He didn’t see “Kind regards” as a Dutchism, but as a reflection of the British convention.

In formal correspondence, UK lawyers do not end with a “regards” phrase

Is this actually the case? I informally surveyed a few practising British lawyers in the last week of September 2014 to find out. They reported that “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” are still both in use in formal correspondence in the UK. They tend to use these conventional closes in proper letters, i.e. letters not sent by e-mail. They also use them in more formal e-mails.

In informal correspondence, UK lawyers use a “regards” phrase

However, these British lawyers also report that in many ordinary e-mails they use “Kind regards” or “Best regards”. There seems to be a preference in the UK for “Kind regards”, which is seen as an appropriate close for ordinary correspondence. They say they might use “Regards” in a more formal or less friendly context.

Because the great majority of communications are now sent by e-mail, “kind regards” has (along with “regards” and “best regards”) become a common ending in legal correspondence in the UK. This might explain why some Dutch legal professionals see it as being conventional in the UK in all situations.

American convention?

Another issue is that American lawyers may not end their e-mail correspondence as informally as British lawyers. I haven’t surveyed American lawyers yet, but I suspect the results would show that American lawyers do not routinely use “Kind regards” and are more formal than their British cousins. An American might be surprised to see a formal e-mail from a lawyer end with “Kind regards”. Do American lawyers tend to use “Yours sincerely” and “Yours truly” (or similar phrases) in e-mails? I’ll report back to you after I’ve surveyed a few.

Yours sincerely,
Greg Korbee (Originally published September 2014. Republished April 2019.)

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