Over the many years of taking legal questions on Legal Line, we all learned a lot and a number of legal “secrets” were revealed. None were bigger or simpler than the confirming letter.
You’re in the middle of a dispute with your neighbor over tree limbs and sharing the costs of trimming and clean-up. You come to an agreement and breathe a sigh of relief. Don’t relax just yet. You have a dispute with a local retailer and come to what you think is a full resolution of the issue. Don’t stop yet. Whenever you agree with someone on an important issue, rush to your computer, crank up Word, and write a confirming letter. “Dear Jane: It was really nice talking to you today. Let’s get together later this summer for that barbeque. This note will confirm our agreement that I will engage Honest John’s Tree Trimming Service to cut back the cherry tree that is on your property near the boundary between our houses. You have agreed to chip in $100.00 towards the cost of pruning and trimming the tree and we’ll both share in cleaning up the debris. I’ll go ahead and contact Honest John this week and we’ll get the work started as soon as he is available. You agreed that Honest John can go onto your property to do his work and that I can keep the tree limbs trimmed right up to the property line. We’ll ask Honest John to be really careful and not damage the tree.” If Jane does not respond to the letter, it will be really hard for her to change her mind and cause trouble when Honest John shows up. If she does object, it is better to know before Honest John arrives. You can use a confirming letter for almost anything that two people can agree on (and where a written contract is not appropriate or simply not in the cards). Obviously, lawyers like thick contracts with lots of clauses that nobody ever reads. Real life won’t tolerate the lawyers most of the time but will accept the confirming letter. Try it and see the next time you have an agreement that is not ripe for the big time lawyer contract, but is important to you.