Diary of a high street conveyancer: 13th February 2023

I read an interesting post on LinkedIn this week on the topic of whether we, as lawyers, should still address letters “Dear Sirs”.

It is an interesting topic – there are times I write to firms where some or all of the solicitors are female and I have wondered about writing “Dear All”, but that is a little chatty. It just sounds wrong to address them with “Dear Madame” or “Dear Mesdames”. It reminds me of the other type of soliciting!

But as there are more and more women in the profession, should we start to question how we address each other in correspondence? Is it just tradition and standard practice to use “Dear Sirs”? Should the law reflect the society we live in? What about those who do not identify as either male or female? Should we move towards a gender-neutral salutation?

I was taught (back in the old days of articles not training contracts) that when writing to a firm, we would address them as “Dear Sirs” and end the letter “Yours faithfully”. If I were to write to a named individual, it would be “Yours sincerely”. The use of “Dear Sirs” dates back to a time when law firms were usually named after the partners, who were invariably male.

We need to be more conscious of the language we use and the impression we create. Language does infer underlying intentions. My late father was of the view that women should have equal rights: one of his favourite riddles was the following:

A father and his son were travelling north on a motorway when their car was involved in a collision. The father died instantly and the son was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. When the son arrived at the hospital, the surgeon said: ‘I can’t operate on him, he’s my son.’ How can this be?

At the time, my father’s answer would have been that the surgeon was the wife, but moving forward 30 years, there is now more than one answer (which would have intrigued my father!). The child could have two fathers. But the point is that the riddle sought to consider gender stereotypes in relation to specific careers. And law was treated in the same way as medicine. We learnt to address other firms in correspondence with “Dear Sirs” as the majority of staff were male. Do we now need to think about gender-neutral options which will depend on the personal preference of the writer?

This is written by a real high street conveyancer who wishes to remain anonymous. Read more in Today’s Conveyancer every week.

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